Monday, March 29, 2010

Primate perp roundup

The folks in Florida that we read about last time aren't the only ones having trouble with their resident primates.

In South Africa, baboons are attacking the wine industry, stealing tens of thousands of dollars worth of grapes ready to harvest - and it's only the best for these particular primates:

Growers say the picky primates are partial to sweet pinot noir grapes, adding to the winemakers' woe: Pinot noir sells for more than the average merlot or cabernet sauvignon.

"They choose the nicest bunches, and you will see the ones they leave on the ground. If you taste them, they are sour," said Francois van Vuuren, farm manager at La Terra de Luc vineyards, 50 miles east of Cape Town. "They eat the sweetest ones and leave the rest."

Not just thieves, they're also drunkards:

Sometimes the baboons even get an alcohol kick — by feasting on discarded grape skins that have fermented in the sun. After gobbling up the skins, the animals stumble around before sleeping it off in a shady spot.

Vineyard owners try to drive away the monkeys with rubber snakes and annoying noise, which naturally brings out the monkeyhuggers:

"The poor baboons are driven to distraction," said O'Riain, who works in the university's Baboon Research Unit.

Elsewhere, a more personal attack: a disabled veteran was savaged by his service monkey:
Hamerick says it started when he accidentally stepped on Noah's hand or foot. The capuchin snapped back violently, locking down on Hamerick's thumb.

"I just started pulling. Didn't give a d*** if I pulled my thumb off at the time - if there was anything I could do to stop the fight. I needed to stop it."

But the fight didn't end there - Noah kept swinging and biting. Hamerick says it was worse than war, even though he lost an eye in Vietnam.

"I got hit all over my body. That was a breeze compared to my little fight with him. Cut the vein, tore ligaments out of my wrists. I'm pumping blood all over..."

"I'm looking around and saying 'well, never thought I'd go out this way...I'm sitting there thinking I'm going to die."

So what's the victim's conclusion after this vicious attack by an animal he called his "best friend"? If you've been reading this blog you won't be surprised:
Still, Hamerick says, "He's a great monkey."

Label from some winemakers that believe the monkey lies, from Flickr user rbeiber.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Monkey on the lam

A famous roving primate in Florida was spotted again: he broke into a woman's enclosed swimming pool, took a dip, and stole some grapefruit from her backyard trees on his way out.

For over a year the rhesus macaque has evaded capture, even though pursuers have managed to hit it with tranquilizer darts, which are worse than useless, according to one source involved in the pursuit:

"The drugs just don't seem to affect him for whatever reason," said Yates. "We've increased the dosage every time that we've shot him. What we're really doing is turning him into a drug addict."

(As if being a thief and an addict isn't enough, the monkey's other offense is being another of those animals who have more Facebook friends than I do.)

We wish the Florida authorities luck in their continuing efforts, and agree with Stephen Colbert, who's been persistent in keeping this story before the public: "I believe animals should be in their natural habitat: behind bars."

Monkey in the pool room by break-in victim Renee Barth from the St. Petersburg Times.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Conspiracy unmasked

I've always been dubious about the Humane Society of the United States. Here's some interesting evidence that I've been right to be suspicious of them - but for reasons that are somewhat different than I had imagined. Consider the following excerpts of descriptions of the nominees for the HSUS Dog of Valor award - italics added:

Benson: Barked and alerted his owners to a fire across the street...

Calamity Jane: Scared away intruders by ferociously barking ...

Max: Barked incessantly, leading his owner to investigate...

Porkchop: Bayed and barked until he got a neighbor’s attention...

RaeLee: Barked and ran down the hall...

Prozac: Barked and alerted family...

The remaining nominees are described - obviously by a web copywriter desperate to avoid repeating the same word in every description - as having "run through the house and howled," "Cried and ran through the house," and finally "awakened owner."

And if you think you can guess how that last dog awakened its owner, you are right: here's the start of the full story of the grand prize winner:

It was 4 a.m. when Kenai, a 14-year-old Bernese mountain dog mix, started to whine and bark.

So: Am I the only one who thinks we've finally unmasked HSUS as a front group for incessantly barking dogs? I've got someone who lives across the street who's obviously a member, and I'll bet you do too. Let's make it clear to all these peace-disturbing canines: the nominees for this award may indeed have saved lives, but that does NOT give all the rest of you a free pass!

Poster from unpleasant-sounding play, by Flickr user Phil Gyford.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The war between dogs and chickens

You'd think dogs would feel secure in their place as humanity's favorite pet. (Yes, statistically there are more cats, but that's because there are many multiple cat households. However, more people own dogs.)

And you'd think there's nothing unusual about killing a chicken, as far as bad dog behavior goes. Even a recent story like the one about the hen that adopted a litter of rottweiler puppies is unlikely to make a fundamental change in the dynamic between the two species.

But keep reading the story headlined "Plucky the chicken dies after dog attack" and the plot seems to thicken:

The loss has hit the Hawkes family hard. Plucky came into their lives a year and a half ago when Sharan Hawkes’s husband, John, found the chicken wandering around in front of their home.

She became the family pet, living in a coop in the backyard of the Dix Street home.

And the Hawkes family launched an effort to change Waltham’s zoning regulations to allow homeowners to keep one chicken as a pet.

Chicken-keeping is reportedly become more and more popular. Is it possible that dogs feel threatened by the possibility that our pet-owning choices could be broadened? That perhaps they realize that chickens not only don't get hair on the sofa or jump up and slobber on guests, but they even contribute something to the household in the way of foodstuffs?

If that was the underlying motivation for this heinous act, the Hawkes family of Waltham vows not to let it succeed:

If the measure does pass, the family intends to buy another pet chicken.

"In Plucky’s name we’re going to continue this," she said.

Hen mom who should not expect any gratitude from the Daily Mail.

Monday, March 15, 2010

"We're lucky these things aren't the size of ravens."

This blog has often observed that the cuter we think an animal is, the worse the truth about it (I'm looking at you, dolphins).

If you don't believe me, maybe you'll believe the excellent and well known wildlife writer Richard Conniff when he writes about hummingbirds:

"These creatures have a following like mythical beasts," said one of the guides, a little ruefully. "There are people who don't care anything about birds, or other wildlife or nature, but they love hummingbirds. We had one woman tell us: "I just love hummingbirds and unicorns." And I don't think she drew any distinction between the two."

The guide's name was Tom Wood. He was from the Southeastern Arizona Bird Conservatory. "People come in," he continued, "and they say, "They're so tiny, and they're so sweet," and we'll say, "Well, they are tiny." Wood trained his binoculars on a feeder. The glittering fragments of rainbow were at that moment swatting and screaming at one another in a relentless bid to get to the head of the line. "They're fighter pilots in small bodies. We've seen a bird knock another hummingbird out of the air and stab it with its bill. People still don't believe it. They think they're little fairies." He shrugged. "We're probably lucky these things aren't the size of ravens, or it would not be safe to walk in the woods."

A bit later in the article in his book Swimming with the Piranhas at Feeding Time is the following:

A scientific paper about the rufous hummingbird includes this endearing notation: "SOCIAL BEHAVIOR: None. Individual survival seems only concern."

This should be enough for anyone, but if it's not, how about the page on hummingbird behavior here, which explains:
When hummingbirds fight, they puff themselves up to look as large as possible. They will spread their wings and tail feathers out as large as possible, and they will use their beaks and claws as weapons. They will chirp warnings as they head toward each other. Hummingbirds have been known to body slam each other in mid air and even lock their bills together while spinning in a circle until they hit the ground.

Consider that that was written by people who actually like hummingbirds, enough to write a whole website about them. It goes on to tell a story about how hummingbirds are so aggressive toward other hummingbirds that they repeatedly attacked a plaque of fake decorative hummingbirds.

And in case that after all that, you still want to put out feeders to actually attract these creatures, they advise as follows:

To avoid hummingbirds from causing too much injury, put out a lot of hummingbird feeders either spaced far apart or all bunched together so there is no way one hummingbird can guard them all. Don't bother to try and stop them from fighting. It's best to just leave them alone and let them work it out. We have a rule on the top deck of the World of Hummingbirds: Hummingbird Farm of "no body-slamming". Whenever the hummingbirds start to body-slam each other, we yell, "Hey". Now they just do it when they think no one is looking.

Hummingbird fight by Flickr user hickoryhollow113.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Updates: Animals behaving humanly

We reported recently on a cat that took the ferry to Spain from England. Concern that this was a symptom of a bigger problem was confirmed by our crack bad behavior research team, which dug up two stories about dogs that take the subway in Moscow. One, in the Financial Times, quotes extensively from a biologist that studies the packs of stray dogs living in the city:

Neuronov says there are some 500 strays that live in the metro stations, especially during the colder months, but only about 20 have learned how to ride the trains. This happened gradually, first as a way to broaden their territory. Later, it became a way of life. “Why should they go by foot if they can move around by public transport?” he asks.

Regular readers of this blog won't be surprised that these strays have their human enablers:

The metro dog also has uncannily good instincts about people, happily greeting kindly passers by, but slinking down the furthest escalator to avoid the intolerant older women who oversee the metro’s electronic turnstiles. “Right outside this metro,” says Neuronov, gesturing toward Frunzenskaya station, a short distance from the park where we were speaking, “a black dog sleeps on a mat. He’s called Malish. And this is what I saw one day: a bowl of freshly ground beef set before him, and slowly, and ever so lazily, he scooped it up with his tongue while lying down.”

Dogs aren't the only lazy animals who've gotten the idea that human transportation is a good deal. We've previously seen a bird trying to hitch a ride on a plane, and now there's also this video of a pigeon taking the subway in Toronto.

These animals might be interested to know what happened to a cat in England who took the same bus every day for four years: he was killed by a hit and run driver while crossing the road to get to the bus stop. His owner was quoted in the Daily Mail:

She said: 'Casper was quite quick for his age but I was trying to stop him from riding the bus so much.

'He had no road sense whatsoever but he loved people.

'He'd queue up in line good as gold - it'd be 'person, person, person, cat, person, person'.'

Sad, but instructive. As we humans well know, taking advantage of our transportation technology has its downsides. Maybe animals - who can already run, climb, swim and fly better than we can - should stick to what they're good at.

Moving on: this video from Japan, always on the forefront of treating animals humanly, shows a family that sends its pet penguin to the grocery store on its own. We have to grant that at least this penguin is pulling its weight in the household more than most animals do.

The Japanese are probably also not helping matters by believing that some of their cats can actually speak.

A final quick addition to a topic we have been following: add cigarettes and coffee to the list of substances that bees like to abuse, which already included bees alcohol and cocaine. Scientists in Israel found that they also prefer nectar that is spiked with caffeine and nicotine.

Dog on the Moscow metro by Flickr user Adam Baker.

Monday, March 8, 2010

If animals want rights, they can pay their own bills too

This blog is constantly demonstrating that animals treat people badly. But it in no way advocates that we treat them likewise in return. If nothing else, we wouldn't want to lower ourselves to their level.

We're not even going to nitpick when laws protecting animals come close to mollycoddling, such as the Swiss laws that forbid flushing goldfish down the toilet and require that guinea pigs and canaries be kept with roommates.

But we're relieved to report that yesterday, the Swiss voted against a proposed law that would have required the government to provide free lawyers to represent animals in court.

The lawyer widely quoted in articles leading up to the vote is famed for representing a dead fish in a case arguing that it was cruel for a fisherman to spend ten minutes attempting to land it. This blog was almost on the fish's side till we read that it had committed the unforgivable sin of having more Facebook friends than we do (reportedly over 6,000.)

We're not saying that animals don't deserve legal representation. We're just saying that if animals are going to start taking jobs that people could otherwise have (as we've seen most recently here and here), then, let them pay for their lawyers with their own damn money like the rest of us have to.

Law dog by flickr user Jurisdog.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Bad behavior briefs

Zhora, a chimp in Russia, has been sent to rehab to treat his smoking and drinking habit. Some reports imply that this tragedy is all the fault of zoo visitors who, despite the pleas of management and a barrier of three fences, managed to supply Zhora with booze and cigarettes. But as Reuters quotes the zoo director:

"The beer and cigarettes were ruining him. He would pester passers-by for booze."

Let's be clear on who's really to blame here: you can hand a chimp a beer, but you can't make him drink.

And in other news from man's "best friend," no comment is necessary on this report headlined German Man Betrayed to Police by Own Pet Dog:

When officers called at his flat in Euskirchen, near Cologne, the door was opened by an acquaintance of the missing man who was holding the dog.

The acquaintance said he did not know where the owner was.

But when the dog was set down, it led police to the cupboard, where it stood expectantly with its tail wagging.

Officers who opened the cupboard, which was just a metre (3ft 3in) high and 80cm (2ft 6in) wide, found the fugitive "hunched up inside".

In case you're looking for a breed that would be a better partner in crime, the dog was reported to be a Jack Russell.

Smoking and drinking chimp by Flickr user Steve9091.

Monday, March 1, 2010

How NOT to treat a cat

I have always suspected that cats are a kind of parasitic species on humans, surviving by controlling our minds so that we think they're wonderful and want to serve them. In fact mind control is the only explanation I can think of for the fact that in well over a year, there have been only about four posts on this blog about the bad behavior of domestic cats. It's certainly not for lack of material.

We need to be on the lookout for signs that cats are getting ready to make their move and take over. They're quietly starting to usurp human privileges, as we saw in this recent post where a cat took the ferry to spain.

The place to keep our eye on is clearly Japan. The Japanese are compounding the problem of cats' excessive self-esteem by running cat cafes, where people pay to hang out with cats and drink tea. Cats are full enough of themselves already, the last thing we need to is show them that humans are willing to pay money for brief periods of their company.

Even worse is that they're allowing cats to hold responsible jobs. One cat in Japan was already stationmaster of a railroad station. The station even hired a human assistant for the cat, called Tama, to direct the many visitors who come to see her.

After only a fairly brief tenure, Tama was given her own office and a promotion to 'super-stationmaster,' at which point it was reported, appallingly, that she was the only female of any species to hold a managerial position in the railroad company.

As if all of this (and having her own Wikipedia entry on top of vast amounts of media coverage) wasn't enough, Tama has now been promoted to operating officer:

"This is the first time in the world for a cat to become an executive of a railroad corporation, a company official said."

Well thank goodness, at least, that this is the first and only case - let's keep it that way!

Photo of Tama dressed for duty from Wikimedia Commons