Monday, June 29, 2009

Primate political opinion?

LUSAKA (AFP) — A monkey urinated on Zambian President Rupiah Banda as he spoke to reporters outside his State House offices on Wednesday.

"You have urinated on my jacket," a startled Banda told the monkey, one of many that makes their home in the trees outside his offices.

"I will give this monkey for lunch to Mr Sata," he joked, referring to opposition leader Michael Sata, who Banda defeated in last year's elections.

Banda is reported to have spent most of the news conference discussing the state of the economy - apparently monkeys are no happier about the global recession than the rest of us.

Zambian monkey poised to express his position by Flickr user dornfeld.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Vacation Linkarama

While I'm off to the beach with two bad dogs, I will let Sir Pylkington-Smythe do my work for me with this post about vervet monkeys. Despite his lack of footnotes and that highly suspicious post about the cookie cutter shark, he's probably not making this one up.

Also you could check out the excess of excitement caused when a couple of cows got loose in Massachusetts. Not sure what the big deal is, but with the emphasis on how they went to New Hampshire, is there some kind of political undercurrent here? It's terrible when you raise a cow and find it wants to become a Republican, I guess.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Bad news for bad animal symbolism

Research with the sloth in captivity has shown that it sleeps an average of sixteen hours a day, validating its position as the cutest personification of a deadly sin ever.

But our animal symbols for bad behavior lead a precarious existence. Call the wrong person a dirty pig and you may find yourself watching a beautiful metaphor beaten to death by a load of ugly facts. Your pig expert will claim that not only are pigs clean animals that only roll in mud to cool off and protect their skin, but that they may even prefer a pool of clean water given the choice.

In another stunning reversal of conventional wisdom, the blog Not Exactly Rocket Science reports on some new research from the Panamanian rainforest:

A new study - the first ever to record brain activity in a wild sleeping animal - reveals that wild sloths are far less lethargic than their captive cousins. In their natural habitat, three-toed sloths sleep for only 9.6 hours a day, not much more than an average first-year university student.

It may be some comfort to our cliches, though, to know that they weren't exactly revealed to be racehorses disguised in shaggy algae-supporting fur:

Rattenborg managed to study sleepy sloths by fitting them with a small, lightweight cap that was loaded with brain activity sensors. Sloths make a good first candidate for such an experiment, as they are easy to capture and their slow lifestyles are unlikely to dislodge the recorders.

Photo, from Flickr user acodring of a baby sloth at the Avarios sloth sanctuary in Costa Rica, is of a two-toed sloth, not the three-toed in the study, because I think they are cuter. So sue me.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Dolphins: really not cute, seriously

Dolphins. I've already tried to convince you that they are attention whores and gang rapists.

But you probably still think they are cute, and mystical, and noble, and live surrounded by love and new-agey instrumental music. Would it change your mind to know that that 'dolphin safe' tuna results in the death of ten times more sea turtles than other methods of fishing? No? OK, how about infanticide? Dolphins not only kill the young of another species, the harbor porpoise, but their own:

The attacks on dolphins less than a year old have spawned numerous theories. "Probably my favorite is male infanticide," notes (researcher) Paul Thompson from Aberdeen. If a new suitor approaches a female that already has a youngster, "there's no point in hanging around for two years with the wrong male's calf," he says. Killing the calf might bring the female into a receptive state much sooner.

If you're not willing to believe laypersons like me and blogger Bad New Hughes:

Dolphins are all smiley and frolick-y and shit on TV, where they solve problems, rescue kittens and do flips. In the wild, they're as big as Volkswagens and twice as fast. Not to mention totally evil and smart enough to really fuck with you.

then go get it from an expert: this post on dolphins' dark secrets by marine biologist Miriam Goldberg, who notes:

The scariest part is dolphins can wreak havoc day and night without sleeping. A recent study found that dolphins could stay awake for five days straight with no loss of mental acuity. The dolphins didn't even need to make up sleep at the end of the study, though the scientists sure did.

If the dolphins ever evolve thumbs, we're in trouble. It will be like a slasher-film remake of Douglas Adams' So Long And Thanks for All The Fish. If I wash up with pulped innards and dolphin tooth marks, you'll know why. After all, you never hear about the people the dolphins push out to sea.

Looming, ominous dolphin by Flickr user gwen.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Bad Canine Roundup

If your dog spent the weekend getting into stuff that he shouldn't, here's a few stories that might make you feel somewhat fortunate in comparison.

In a tribute to Germanic dog training, a dog in Berlin that found a live hand grenade left over from World War II while on a walk was reported to have put it back down - carefully, we presume - on its owner's command.

But another dog, in liberal Seattle, was not nearly so well behaved, and learned his lesson. Fortunately, what he'd found wouldn't blow him up, but did blow his mind.

After a walk in the park where Lab mix Jack had off the path and disappeared for a couple of minutes, he began displaying odd behavior:

"His eyes were kind of glossed over, very out of touch, I mean, he didn't seem to recognize me at first," Nestor Waddell said. "When he was trying to walk, he was looking at his paw, and then looking at the ground and then trying to get his paw to reach the ground, but was unsuccessful."

Concern for Jack turned to relief when she heard the vet's diagnosis: Jack had swallowed a large amount of dried, harvested marijuana.

No word on whether the symptoms also included a ravenous craving for junk food - but after all, with a dog, how would you tell the difference?

And in other news of German canines redeeming themselves after behaving badly, a fox stole over one hundred shoes, but - unlike many dogs who get hold of an owner's footwear - allowed them to be returned in good condition:

A forest worker stumbled upon shoes strewn near the fox's den and found a trove of footwear down the hole which had recently been stolen overnight from outside locals' front doors...

Although many were missing laces, the shoes were in good condition and their owners were delighted to reclaim them, (a police spokesman) said, adding that no reprisals were planned against the culprit.

Photo from Flickr user Chicheaux.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Chimp takes a bite out of management

Every zoo I've worked at, we wanted to do something similar to most of our bosses, but only a chimp has the nerve to follow through:

BERLIN (Reuters) – The director of the Berlin Zoo made famous by the polar bear cub Knut has had his finger bitten off by a chimpanzee called Pedro.

Bernhard Blaszkiewitz, 55, was feeding Pedro walnuts as he showed a visitor round the zoo Monday when the ape grabbed his hand and bit off his right index finger...

Doctors sewed Blaszkiewitz's finger back on but said it was not clear if the operation would be successful.

(Zoo spokesman) Andre Schuele said the incident would have no repercussions for the 28-year-old Pedro.

Video (at the same link) says Pedro "almost" severed the finger... and that the doctors were considering whether the amputate the reattached finger that night if its condition got worse, because the zoo director "knows the dangers of infection from such a bite and he has travel plans that are important to him."

No word on where he's planning to go that's more important than sticking around and trying to save a finger, but maybe that location should add this story to its travel brochures.

(Photo of Pedro from Reuters.)

Monday, June 8, 2009

Parrot purloins passport

And gets away Scot-free...
SOUTHLAND TIMES, NZ - Te Anau police have identified a thief who brazenly stole a British man's passport, but will not pursue an arrest or attempt to recover the document.

A police spokeswoman said a Scottish man reported the theft of his passport from a bus heading into Milford Sound earlier this week.

The passport had been in a coloured courier bag that attracted the attention of a cheeky kea when the bus stopped at the Chasm on the Milford road.

While the driver was in a compartment beneath the bus, the kea grabbed the package. When the driver turned back, the startled kea flew off into the bush with the package. It has not been recovered and considering the size of Fiordland, is unlikely to be.

The Scottish man, who did not want to be identified, said he had been waiting for about a month for the passport to be returned from Wellington.

"Being Scottish, I've got a sense of humour so I did take it with humour but obviously there is one side of me still raging," he said.

"My passport is somewhere out there in Fiordland. The kea's probably using it for fraudulent claims or something."

The kea parrot is a well known troublemaker in New Zealand, although it is usually noted for its taste for delicacies like the rubber parts of tourists' cars rather than their passports, as you can see in this video.

Photo of the perpetrator by bus passenger Yvonne Richarson.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Tomorrow is Dead Duck Day

The only official holiday for an animal behaving badly that I know of, Dead Duck Day has been celebrated on June 5 for the past 13 years at the Natural History Museum of Rotterdam. It commemorates the victim of the first scientifically documented case of homosexual necrophilia in the mallard duck, described in the abstract of the full original article thusly:

On 5 June 1995 an adult male mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) collided with the glass fa├žade of the Natuurhistorisch Museum Rotterdam and died. Another drake mallard raped the corpse almost continuously for 75 minutes. Then the author disturbed the scene and secured the dead duck. Dissection showed that the rape-victim indeed was of the male sex.

The research was awarded the Ig Nobel Prize for Biology in 2003, and you can read about last year's celebration of Dead Duck Day at the Annals of Improbable Research, here and here.

Photo: a Drake mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) in full breeding plumage (left) next to the dead drake mallard (NMR 9997-00232) just after collision with the new wing of the Natuurhistorisch Museum Rotterdam; b the same couple during copulation, two minutes after photo a was taken. [photo: C.W. Moeliker]

Monday, June 1, 2009

Squirrel disrespects American flag, fallen soldiers

A cemetery in Michigan followed its usual tradition this year, of putting small flags in the graves of almost a thousand dead soldiers for Memorial Day.

But the next day, cemetery staff found that many of the flags were gone, ripped off leaving nothing but bare sticks behind.

The mystery was solved by the supervisor of the cemetry - obviously an observant fellow but not a reader of this blog, because he found it hard to believe that an innocent wild animal could be the culprit:

If he didn't see it happen, Ron Ceglarek said he probably wouldn't believe it.

A squirrel -- weighing about 3 pounds -- got up on its hind legs, tore a small American flag from a small staff next to a grave stone, rolled it up and carried it up a tree to a waiting mate building a nest.

It happened not just once, but about dozen times.

"He plucks them right off," Ceglarek, superintendent of Mount Hope Cemetery in Port Huron, said of a rogue squirrel that is stealing flags. "If I didn't see it, and I didn't follow the squirrel, I never would have believed it."

Full story and pictures here.

Squirrel looking deceptively noble by Flickr user threefingers.