Monday, April 29, 2013

Looking forward to my golden years

We've seen a 94-year-old Australian woman beat an attacking kangaroo on the head with a broom, a 74-year-old woman in England save her Chihuahua from a hawk, and a Russian grandmother  fend off an attacking wolf with an axe.

Now we've got an 83-year-old Indonesian woman who recently survived an attack by a Komodo dragon:

Haisah was sitting on the ground outside her house on Rinca island, one of several Komodo-inhabited islands frequently visited by tourists, making a broom from a coconut tree, when the two-metre (6.6-foot) reptile sprang at her.
"All of a sudden, a Komodo bit my right hand," she told AFP from her bed in hospital where she has been receiving treatment since the attack. "I have no idea which direction it came from."
"A knife fell from my right hand as the Komodo sunk its teeth into my wrist. There was nobody else around and I knew that I faced a fight for survival."
But the elderly lady managed to repel the attack: "I kicked the Komodo on one its front legs with all my strength, it was only one kick but it made the Komodo let go of my hand, then I screamed for help."
With one kick! That's the kind of old lady that I hope I will be someday.

Komodo checking out how tasty you are by Flickr user gsbrown99.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Surprise Encounters

 In South Carolina, a 12-foot alligator trapped a South Carolina couple in their home for five hours:
Diana Andrews opened the front door of the Hilton Head Island home she shares with her husband, Arthur, around 5:30 a.m. Saturday to take the couple's Scottish Terrier for a walk. Instead, she found herself face-to-snout with an alligator.

"I was in bed and heard her open the door and then scream and then heard the door slam," Arthur Andrews told "I went running out and looked outside."

"The dog couldn't have been two feet from the gator's mouth when my wife grabbed him by his tail and pulled him back into the house, so she had to get that close too," he said.
A security officer's attempts to help merely angered the critter, so the couple waited two hours for trappers to arrive - and even these jaded professionals were impressed: 
Believing that Andrews' over-the-phone description of the gator as "about 10 feet" would be a typical situation, in which the gator is actually about two feet but the homeowner is scared, the company only sent one man, Joe Maffo, to chase the gator away.

"When he saw it, he said there was no way," Andrews recalled, adding that Maffo estimated the gator to weigh about 1,000 pounds.
-In Kansas, a woman at the circus had an unexpected encounter in the restroom with one of the performers:
"I went in to use the bathroom, and a lady came in to get her daughter out and said there was a tiger loose," Krehbiel said. "I didn't know it was in the bathroom, and I walked in the (open) door, which closed right after I had walked in. I saw the tiger; it was at most two feet in front of me, and I turned around calmly and walked back toward the door. Someone opened the door and said get out."

Krehbiel said the tiger "wasn't the biggest one" performing, but she estimated it was more than 250 pounds.

"It was the closest I have ever been to a tiger not in a cage," Krehbiel said. "You don't expect to go in a bathroom door, have it shut behind you and see a tiger walking toward you."

Chris Bird, manager at the Bicentennial Center, said the tiger escaped during the show, and staff quickly barricaded off the concourse. He said the tiger veered off into an open bathroom and a security guard got people out, shut the door behind the tiger and barricaded the door. Krehbiel went in the opposite door.
Fortunately, no one was hurt, but this seems lucky, given the attitude of the tiger's management, who seemed to have no more sense than a toddler:
Krehbiel said her husband talked with a person from the circus who told him the animals are well trained and there was no risk. She said he told them the tiger is a wild animal.

Krehbiel said her 3-year-old had a different view of the event.

"My daughter wanted to know if it had washed its hands," Krehbiel said. "That was her only concern."

Monday, April 22, 2013

Otter family dysfunction

There's been a lot of interest lately in my post about otters raping and murdering baby seals. You might be interested in how these otters grew up to be so ruthless: as we see in this video, they're products of abusive mothers. The zookeeper cheerfully describes how a baby otter is taught to swim: "You'll see her pushing him underwater and holding him there," she says, and adds brightly, "it looks a little brutal."

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Bad Bird News Briefs

In two parts of the world with not much else in common, people are being victimized by hawks, and by the laws we've put in place to protect them:

-Protective hawk takes over Tampa school's campus

This parking lot at a university in Florida looks like a crime scene - except the idea is to prevent a crime, a red-shouldered hawk that's nesting in the trees:

"They sent out an email about a week ago warning everyone who’s on campus," said Kristen McMillen, a Nova Southeastern student. "There’s some kind of attack bird up in a tree who has had multiple incidents with people walking through the parking lot, they warned us stay clear of the roped off area when you come to campus." 

According to school officials, at least one hawk dive bombed a few students who got too close to the nest.
 As usual the species is protected, so the bird can't be evicted, and yellow tape is all they can do to protect the students.

-Peregrine falcon cuts off mobile phone signal for thousands
THOUSANDS of mobile users in Southampton could be without a signal for months – because a rare bird has made its nest on a phone mast.

Vodafone engineers trying to track a fault that has left people across the north of the city frustrated found a peregrine falcon squatting on the transmitter in the Highfield area.

They cannot repair it because strict wildlife laws ban them from disturbing the creature.

Bird experts have warned that it could be at least June before the fledglings leave the nest.
The phone company is "looking at alternative contingency plans" and trying to convince people that they should be happy:
“While this is inconvenient for our customers, it is great news that the falcons are nesting in the city.”
We ask: where are the laws to protect us from these feathered hooligans?

Monday, April 15, 2013

Enough blame to go around

Humans are so often enablers of bad animal behavior. Sometimes only the animals suffer, and we can't be entirely blamed for their poor choices. But sometimes, we're our own worst enemies. A recent example of each out of Eastern Europe:

-In a Russian nature preserve there are bears who are addicted to sniffing jet fuel. They'll wait for a helicopter to take off so they can run and sniff the few drops it leaves behind. Then, as the photographer explains the photo above:
The bear will spend a long time sniffing into the smell and will even roll on his back on the ground there. After a while he will dig a hole in the ground, lay down in it with his belly up to the sky, and will stay for a while in this "nirvana" position.
-In Belarus, a man was recently killed in a beaver attack. If this seems implausible, you don't read this blog throughly enough: we've seen a number of unprovoked attacks by beavers. But in fact, in this case, the victim has no one to blame but himself. This isn't clear in all of the news coverage of this incident, which includes the typical naturalist making excuses:
"The beaver is not normally aggressive, but it does have big teeth and immensely powerful jaws; it can cut down a tree three feet wide." Mr Shilinchuk said there was a chance that the animal was rabid, or that it was a young beaver seeking new territory after being forced out by its parents. It was also possible that it had lost its home as waterways rose with the onset of spring.
 But pay attention and you'll find this crucial point in that article in The Telegraph, describing what the three fisherman thought was a good idea when they encountered a rodent with jaws that can cut down a tree:
"One of them went up to be photographed with it, and the animal attacked him and bit him twice, cutting an artery in his thigh, before running away."
My italics, and I think, enough said.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Baby blackmailers

Everyone loves heartwarming stories of mother animals nurturing and defending their innocent babes. But like everything else about animals, when you look closely, their family life is not as nice as they like you to think.

A recent study of a bird called the pied babbler shows that fledglings apparently blackmail their parents into feeding them more. The researchers found that babies that were on the ground at risk from predators got four times as much food as when they were safe in a tree. And when the scientists played recordings of the birds' ground predator alarm call, the parents doubled the feeding rate.

So, what the heck is up with that?
Fascinated, the team speculated that the young, which were slower than adults to respond to the alarm calls and cannot escape as quickly from danger, were intentionally putting themselves into a dangerous situation when hungry to force their parents to pay attention and feed them.
The study's author, asked to comment on parallels with human offspring, apparently knows exactly what this is like:
Thompson doubts it is possible to draw any real parallels between the birds' behaviour and that of human teenagers who love to do risky things to attract attention. But a mother shopping with a screaming baby in tow may be a better analogy. “I know from personal experience that parents are more willing to buy kids sweets or treats if they start screaming in a public place. It isn't a predation risk, but it is an embarrassment risk."

Monday, April 8, 2013

How not to solve bad animal problems

-How not to prevent nuclear meltdowns:
A couple weeks ago, we covered a situation at Fukushima nuclear complex in Japan, to recap: A little over two years ago, the plant was hit by an earthquake and tsunami that humans had not designed it to withstand. Then, a couple weeks after the two-year anniversary of the disaster, the cooling systems at the disabled power plant shut down, revealing that humans had not designed the power to the crucial safety system to withstand.... a rat.

Officials claimed that they would now be in a big hurry to replace that makeshift backup power system and that in the meantime, they would make sure it was rodent-proof. Great work, guys:  a few days ago, while installing netting to keep out rats, the workers accidentally shorted out the power, causing the spent fuel pool to go without cooling again for three hours.

-How not to discourage wildlife in your garden:
It's true that animals start fires all the time.  Along with the many cases we've covered before, some recent arsonist animals include two cases in England of a squirrel that started a fire in a garage and a lust-crazed tortoise that knocked over a heater, causing a blaze that killed himself and his partner.

But sometimes when you read a headline like this one:

Snake blamed for burning down home

you need to actually read the story:
Authorities believe a homeowner's response to finding a snake in her yard may have led to the fire that destroyed her house Wednesday.
"While cleaning up, she saw snake, threw gasoline on the snake, lit the snake on fire," said Deputy Randall Baggett with the Bowie County Sheriff's Office. "The snake went into the brush pile and the brush pile caught the home on fire."
Despite the efforts of several fire departments that responded to the scene, the flames completely engulfed the home. It is a complete loss. A neighboring home was also damaged on one side.
 I think we can all agree that in this case, the animal was not this person's worst enemy.

Lustful tortoises by Flickr user guano.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

The price of canine convenience

Blame this one partly on the dogs: This bear in California came in the house, ate the Chinese food on the dining room table, and took a box of dog food out to his companion who was waiting outside. But how did he get in? Through the dog door.

Sure, it's great for a dog to be able to wander in and out whenever it wants. But Justin Lee of Monrovia discovered the downside last week when he was reportedly "just like hanging out inside with my dog," and, he said "I look over and me and the bear just like lock eyes.”

News accounts reported that "Lee immediately grabbed his dog, ran upstairs and locked himself in his room. He then phoned local police, who remained on the line until police arrived," but not so immediately that he didn't snap a few photos like the one above.

Officers frightened the bears off by firing into the air, and Lee learned that he got off easy:
"We were really lucky. There was a mess but nothing was broken, not even a plate," he said. "We were told there were instances where a bear has actually ripped open a refrigerator door."
Fortunately, the family has learned their lesson:
“The police gave us a lot of good advice and one thing is, this doggy door might work in a different city, but in this area, it’s probably not a good move, so we’re keeping this door shut,” he said.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Orangutans vs so-called experts

At the Frankfurt Zoo, they've had to post a security guard at their orangutan exhibit to keep an eye on a troublemaker:
The 20-year-old orang-utan called Sirih, has become so good at making holes in the fence around her enclosure, and digging up the water and heating pipes that the zoo has stationed a security man to watch over her and raise the alarm at the first sign of trouble.
 Zookeeper are worried that the younger orangs may learn from her, but they're oddly unconcerned about what her ultimate goal may be:
"She's not trying to break out, that is not her aim, she just messes with various things, including the fence, but also the water pipes and heating, and she causes damage. She uses branches and whatever else she can find as tools," Christine Kurrle, zoo spokeswoman told The Local.
So she's taking apart the fence, but she's not trying to break out? Obviously these people know less about orangutans than they ought to. Never mind the professional literature, if they'd read my book, they'd know that orangutans are reknowned breakout artists:

-At the Audubon zoo in New Orleans, an orang named Berani escaped his exhibit using only a T-shirt: he scaled a ten foot wall, stretched the shirt out and wrapped it around the hotwires, swung himself over the wires and climbed the railing.

-At a zoo in Australia, an orangutan disabled the hotwires surrounding her exhibit with a stick, then made a pile of leaf litter and debris and climbed over the wall.

-One zoo orang that escaped from its cage into the service area grabbed a floor squeegee when discovered and started using it, apparently figuring the keepers would believe he was nothing but a big, orange, hairy employee cleaning up at the end of his shift.

-Perhaps the most famous case, Fu Manchu made several escapes a few decades ago at the Omaha Zoo. Positive they’d locked all the doors—and on the verge of being fired for carelessness—keepers set up a secret watch. They saw him pull a door back from its frame, then take out a piece of wire hidden in his cheek and use it to trip the latch. He’d bent the wire into a comfortable shape to hide in his mouth, and had been carrying it around like a set of keys to use whenever he felt like getting out on a nice day.

The Frankfurt zoo's long term plan is to get rid of the troublemaker - they're planning to move Sirih to another zoo, allegedly for a breeding program. Let's hope the keepers at the next place are readers of this blog.

Orang caught using a tool by Flickr user Tambako the Jaguar.