Thursday, January 28, 2010

Sweet deal ends for rogue anaconda

At a park in Florida, ducks and geese had been disappearing for the past few months. "We would only find feathers all over the place," one witness said.

Waterfowl at the park are now safe again since a twelve foot long anaconda was evicted from its hiding place in a pond. It was captured last week by mounted police, according to the Orlando Sentinel. (No word on how the horses assisted.)

This snake must have thought itself pretty clever, living for free and feeding from the public trough. And this blog can only rejoice that it has been put in its place. But it's yet another case where the humans involved seem to have been asleep at the switch. It's no wonder animals get away with this kind of stuff: How do you not notice - for months - a twelve foot long snake?

Monday, January 25, 2010

Animals being treated humanly

As we've seen in the last four posts, some animals don't know their place, doing things that by all rights should only be done by humans.

But as this blog shows again and again, sometimes we only have ourselves to blame. It's no surprise if animals act like people if we treat them like people. This sort of thing is getting out of hand, and I don't just mean dressing dogs in clothes. I'm talking about stuff like pre-natal classes for elephants.

This trend has finally reached its pinnacle: two researchers have proposed that because dolphins are so intelligent, they should be considered "non-human persons."

As reported by the UK Times Online, the scientists base their argument on research showing that dolphins may be smarter than chimps, can recognize themselves in a mirror, pass on cultural activities, have complex problem-solving abilities, and blah blah blah. You know the sort of thing.

You might be surprised at this conclusion, but this blog has decided to support this proposal. Yes, we've seen that dolphins are gang rapists, babykillers, and pose a serious danger to innocent (if misguided)humans.

But you know what? It's about time we start treating dolphins in the same way that we treat human persons who do all of those things. I don't suggest that we should trust dolphins themselves to be the dolphin police like in the logo in the photo above, but as long as we can work out a system to arrest them and bring them to trial, this blog is fully in favor.

Inexplicable Turkish motorcycle police logo thanks to Flickr user noneck.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Animals behaving humanly, part 4

For the last of this series, the original plan was a well reasoned rant against scientists who go out of their way to try to prove that animals possess human skills, such as this newly reported study on mathematical abilities in monkeys.

But thanks to a story sent our way by our good friend Sir Pilkington-Smythe at Weirdimals, instead, we're going to wrap up with an animal behaving humanly in a manner that we (well, most of us, anyway) can feel superior to.

In California, a goat broke into a closed "gentleman's club". Caught on surveillance video, the goat, perhaps disappointed by the absence of ladies in a state of undress, demonstrated that he was not only lustful and disrespectful of other's property, but also vain: he spent half an hour staring into a mirror.

As a member of a more sophisticated species, I know you have better things to do than click on that link and watch the video for yourself.

Goat no doubt looking for trouble by Misterqueue.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Animals behaving humanly, part 3

After our last post we hope that you'll no longer be fooled by animals that pretend to be artists, no matter how widely their fame is spread by credulous journalists and clever zoo fundraising staff.

But perhaps even more troubling are animals who claim to have advanced degrees, as attested by this list at Wikipedia - and of course, those are only the degree recipients who've been successfully outed as cats and dogs. There may be more.

One of these is a pug named Chester Ludlow (pictured above) who was awarded an MBA from an online school called Rochville University.

But like the orangutan photographer, he's not getting away with this so easily. As explained to him in this video by a puggle who is apparently employed by the Diploma Mill Police at, a degree that you buy for $499 from an unaccredited institution isn't going to fool anyone:

Whatever else you might think about its value, it's good to know that an MBA degree - at least, a legitimate one - is still one of the last remaining things separating us from the animals.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Animals behaving humanly, part 2

Perhaps the most presumptuous behavior possible is an animal thinking it can actually replace us in our jobs.

It's bad enough if it's a fairly low paid profession, like the monkeys that wait tables in Japan, or the dog we met in an earler post who worked in a gas station.

Some animals have tried to usurp the place of much more skilled professionals, though. Fortunately, we'll see today and next time, some of them have gotten their comeuppance.

You've probably seen the stories about elephants and other animals painting pictures which are sold for fundraisers for zoos. The latest artistic star in the news is an orangutan at the Vienna Zoo, who's been taking photos, and in an even more up-to-date touch, posting them on a Facebook page. (And yes, with over 81,000 fans, she's more popular than you are.)

The truth is that the ape's motivations have nothing to do with artistic self-expression: the camera is rigged to dispense raisins when she clicks the shutter.

"Of course the apes don't care about the pictures, they are just an accidental side product," a zoo spokesman has been widely quoted as saying, but in case you're not convinced, the esteemed National Geographic took it upon themselves to get to the bottom of the story of this pretentious primate. In an interview, the deputy director of the zoo, Harald Schwammer, said:

The company Samsung came up with the suggestion. It was their idea to advertise their camera! For me as zoologist and curator, it is an enrichment project with some opportunities for behavioral studies. To be clear, the orang does not know that it is making pictures with the camera!

All of the orangs in the group manipulate the instrument and turn a switch. After this switch is turned, a raisin falls out. By turning the switch, the photo is taken. Therefore, the orangutan does not know that this is a camera and that they are making pictures, they are only trying to get a reward from the machine.

It is just like the elephant paintings that are going around the world with false information: elephants are not able to paint a tree or flowers; they are trained for this. There is no creative touch, no artistic approach!

We've seen before on this blog that orangs have a knack for using objects to make trouble,and Schwammer reminds us to be careful what we give an orang to play with:

There was nothing surprising concerning the orangutans' behavior. We knew that they use and manipulate every object they touch. If you give them a machine-gun, they will soon find out how to shoot it.

Photo of one of her suspicious-looking orang comrades - purely accidentally, of course - by Nonja.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Animals behaving humanly, part 1

Modern scientists - who clearly don't know whose side they're on - have shattered many cherished illusions about what separates us from the animals. For instance, we've had to give up the idea that we're the only species that uses tools, and you never know when research may add details that are an additional blow to our self-esteem - such as the fact that chimps use cooking utensils to prepare their meals.

It's getting worse all the time. Your dentist can accuse you of having worse habits than a monkey now that we know that macaques floss their teeth. And some of you animal-loving do-gooder types might be out of business if a lost dog can turn himself into the lost and found, like a dachshund did in Germany.

But if there's an award for the most nerve exhibited by an animal seizing human privileges for itself lately, it has to go to the British cat who took the ferry to Spain.

The cat's apparent attempt to take a sunny vacation was thwarted when the crew discovered him before he could disembark, but he certainly didn't suffer:

For the return journey he was fed a special menu of salmon, chicken and milk and had an ensuite cabin with sea view, which usually costs up to £266.

Crew members paid hourly visits to his room during the 36 hour sailing to give him a stroke and to ensure he remained comfortable.

They gave him his own pillow and donated one of their warm jackets. And the ship's captain, Alastair McFadyen, even found time to visit the stowaway.

Far from complaining about the non-paying passenger, a spokesman for the shipping company said:

"Staff kept a close eye on him, gave him cuddles and kept him comfortable - they were sad to see him go."

Photo of another spoiled-looking passenger by Flickr user hidden side.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

King of the Lazy, Warmongering, Babykilling Beasts

A fantasy commonly repeated by the bunnyhugging peacenik type is that humans are the only animal to wage war.

In this month's Smithsonian magazine, this myth takes another hit in an article by Abigail Tucker about the work of lion researcher George Packer.

Scientists used to believe that prides—groups of a few to more than a dozen related females typically guarded by two or more males—were organized for hunting. Other aspects of the communal lifestyle—the animals’ affinity for napping in giant piles and even nursing each others’ young—were idealized as poignant examples of animal-kingdom altruism.

But Packer and his collaborators have found that a pride isn’t formed primarily for catching dinner or sharing parenting chores or cuddling. The lions’ natural world—their behavior, their complex communities, their evolution—is shaped by one brutal, overarching force, what Packer calls “the dreadful enemy.”

Other lions.

One typical lion battle strategy is particularly charming. A coalition of males who don't have a pride will try to take one over by driving off or killing the resident males. Then, if they're successful, they kill all the pride's cubs in order to breed with the females. Sure, what's a little infanticide when you've got such a noble reputation to hide behind?

Packer has found that the communal nurseries exist not because lions have socialist utopian childrearing ideals, but because lionnesses that raise their cubs together can better defend them from these takeover attempts.

Lions have other flaws as well, one being that they are extremely lazy. Packer's very first research conclusion was that they were "really boring."

The laziest of all the cats, they were usually collapsed in a stupor, as if they had just run a marathon, when in reality they hadn’t moved a muscle in 12 hours.

And if you haven't already had enough of your illusions smashed about these supposedly brave beasts, you might want to know what else they're afraid of aside from each other:

Earlier I had asked what kind of anti-lion gear the researchers carried. “An umbrella,” Jansson said. Apparently, lions don’t like umbrellas, particularly if they’re painted with large pairs of eyes.

Lion too lazy to even hold its head up, by MisterQueue.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Lessons for the New Year

To start the new year off right, a collection of stories demonstrating how to - and how not to - treat animals that are behaving badly.

- Man bites snake in India:

A gardener who was bitten by a snake gave as good as he got, or better. He bit the snake back, and kept chewing until he felt rather ill, vomited, and fainted, but came out on top in the end:

"I was angry when the snake bit me on my finger. I bit it back because that was my way of taking revenge," Ramesh told doctors after regaining consciousness.

His condition is stable. The snake is dead.

- A goat in Germany was jailed for disrupting traffic, and insulted as well:

The only remarks on the arrest papers were "smells very bad."

The goat is being fed bread and water and as is clear from the photo above, his accomodations are suitably spartan.

Traffic enforcement on animal violators seems to be taken more seriously in some places than others. We've seen a dog get away with crashing a car into a store in Australia and everybody making excuses for a crocodile in Turkey.

Let's resolve in the new year not to take those two cases as precedent and work harder to lock up goats and handcuff bulls and big birds who disrupt travel.

-On the other end of the spectrum from the police department's goat diet of bread and water, we have a report of a zoo hiring a children's chef to make a special Christmas meal for a fussy baby lemur:

Zoo keepers have tried to tempt the animal with a variety of treats, but so far the youngster has turned his nose up at almost everything on offer.

So Mrs Karmel was drafted in to ensure he eats his Christmas dinner.

"He's quite fussy, like most kids are," she said. "He doesn't like vegetables but he likes fruit. The trouble with him is that he is fickle - one day he likes something and the next day he won't eat it."

-Even worse, on the other end of spectrum from the snake-biting gardener, the past year saw victims of shark attacks, including a man who had his arm bitten off by a shark, lobbying for shark conservation.

Enough said. You know what to do.