Monday, May 31, 2010

Cute animals interfere with scientific progress

You'd think scientists, at least, would be objective about animals. Sadly untrue, as The Guardian reports on a paper published in the journal Conservation Biology:

According to a new study, rampant bias exists among researchers towards "cuter and more interesting" animals. The meerkat has clocked up more than 100 published studies since 1994. The manatee has been the subject of just 14, and academic neglect may be a vital factor in its currently parlous position. "Scientists are people too," says Morgan Trimble, a conservation scientist at the University of Pretoria in South Africa, who carried out the study. "And many of them want to work with the big and furry stuff."

Lovers of chimps, pandas and elephants like to argue that saving habitat for these creatures has a trickle-down effect, preserving less attention-getting animals as a side benefit. But if you don't live in the neighborhood of some charismatic mega-fauna, your species is apparently out of luck:

Threatened large mammals dominated the studies, appearing in 500 times as many published papers as threatened amphibians. Threatened reptiles, birds and small mammals also received much less attention. The most studied animals were chimpanzees, with 1,855 mentions, and leopards, with 1,241 mentions. Even within the relatively well-studied group of threatened large animals, more than two-thirds of scientific effort went on less than a third of species. For threatened reptiles, some 98% of research studied less than a quarter of species.

Should we really allow certain animals to cloud our minds and suck up all our research dollars just because they are big and fuzzy instead of brown and mushy like that cute baby Japanese giant salamander in the photo?

Learn more about endangered ugly things at the blog Endangered Ugly Things and see a place that has the good taste to celebrate that brown mushy creature with its own festival here.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

An elephant with a different sort of drinking problem

There is nothing I can add to this story headlined "Elephant picture explains mystery of leaking jacuzzi" in the Telegraph. All you need is the photo caption:
An elephant nicknamed Troublesome is snapped taking a drink from the pool at Etali Safari Lodge, South Africa. Susan Potgieter, owner of the lodge, said: "When I first saw the photograph of her drinking I couldn't believe it. It was something of a relief because we had been trying to work out why the pool had been draining so quickly for weeks but couldn't find a leak anywhere."

(If you missed our post on the more usual sort of elephant drinking problem it's here.)

Monday, May 24, 2010

Making excuses for man's best friend

They send us to the emergency room, cause car accidents, destroy great works of literature. And how do humans respond?

In Ottawa, a driver lost control of his car and crashed it into a coffee shop, fortunately with minimal damage and no injury. Initial reports said that the accident was caused when a dog bit the driver's hand.

Mistaken information goes out on the news every day that's never corrected. But in this case, the Ottawa Citizen rushed to print more than one story that cleared the Chihuahua of responsibility:

A six-month-old Chihuahua initially blamed for causing a car crash that sent a vehicle careening into a coffee shop has been cleared.

Initial reports said the dog bit the driver of a moving vehicle in the Glebe, causing the car to crash into a second one before hitting a coffee shop on Thursday afternoon. However, the dog's owner said the Chihuahua bit the man after the crash, when he tried to get it out of the car.

Do-gooders will even leap to the defense of dogs in the age-old battle between canines and cats, evoking an appropriate response from sensible Scottish cat ladies:
Angela Blanchard, from Cruden Bay, said she was shocked by a visit from welfare officers after her cat Rosie attacked the dog in a school playground.

Mrs Blanchard admitted four-year-old Rosie did not like dogs but said she was bemused the incident had been reported to the authorities.

It seems like the only thing that a dog can't get away with is a direct attack on officers of the law - like the dog who was sent to anger management classes after attacking a police car. And yet even when a dog bit a police officer in Ohio, it was his owner who was fined. Really, how far does it have to go before a dog takes the blame?

Bad dog contemplating her sins by Flickr user jurisdog.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Bad Animal Research Reports

Now there's a title for a journal I'd subscribe to in a minute. But since it doesn't exist, I'll try to keep you all up to date:

-In Wales
, PhD student Hanna Nuuttila is using high-tech listening devices to figure out why dolphins beat up on porpoises.

This carries on from a previous acoustic monitoring study she did for The Seawatch Foundation, prompted by the discovery that Cardigan Bay dolphins were killing porpoises.

"When dead porpoises stranded, you could tell dolphins were involved from dentition marks in their flesh," she explains.

"The porpoises were also suffering massive haemorrhages and their internal organs were all mushed up. They were being battered to death, really."

My hypothesis is that the reason is "because they're assholes," but I understand: this is science and hypotheses must be tested, not assumed. We look forward to the results of this research.

-Purdue University scientist William Muir is working to breed a strain of chickens that won't kill one another. This is necessary because humans want to raise chickens more humanely, and here's how they thank us when they are kept in groups in large enclosures instead of in solitary confinement:

"If you have a lot of birds that want to be top bird there's going to be fighting," Muir said. "If you leave their beaks intact it's a bloodbath. They will literally kill each other. It's kind of a dominance thing. ... They just peck each other to death."

-Finally, scientists in England have found that wild birds are skeptics about the claims that organic food is better. In a three year study, birds consistently ate more of the non-organically-grown seed, searching it out when feeders were switched around.

Researchers suggested that this might be due to the fact that the non-organic seed was actually more nutritious, with a ten percent higher protein content. But I don't know if that's it. Have you ever tasted some of the stuff they sell in those organic markets? Animals may be bad, but they're not idiots.

Evil chicken by Flickr user Photo Lex.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Kangaroo pervert commits cross-species harassment

Perhaps naming the area "the Honeymoon Ranges" gave one kangaroo the idea that it was the right place to look for love. But the human females of Australia are understandably less than thrilled with the attention. The Northern Territory News reports:

One resident who walks along the bike track to the Mary Ann Dam regularly said she realised she was being followed early one morning.

"I turned around and saw this big kangaroo behind me, so I hastened my steps," she said.

"It seemed a bit odd, but I continued walking and didn't think much about it.

"Then on the return walk he was there waiting for me," she said.

"With his male pride on full alert, he started circling me.

"There was no doubt about what he wanted, the randy old thing.

"It was a huge kangaroo and quite intimidating.

"I yelled at him to go away, waved my hands about and let him know I wasn't interested, but he was persistent - I'll give him that."

The kangaroo was also reported to have approached the crowd at an evening car race and chatted up a woman who approached him thinking he was just "a cute, friendly kangaroo."

Tanya was oblivious to the amorous nature of the interlude, but the kangaroo's intentions were clearly evident to other speedway fans.

"Yeah, apparently he was quite aroused," she said.

"I'm actually glad I didn't notice."

She got off easy, but let's hope the women of Australia take a lesson from this. For safety's sake, better assume animals are guilty until proven "cute and friendly," not the other way around.

Rude kangaroo by Flickr user Dan Taylor.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Animals taking advantage

Readers of this blog know that animals are constantly taking advantage of our good nature and our foolishly positive attitude towards them. It should be no surprise that they're not above taking advantage of our troubles, as well. In Chicago, the home foreclosure crisis has turned out to be a boon for raccoons, who have moved into abandoned properties.

This would be all well and good if they were responsible tenants, making roof repairs and mowing the lawn, but they turn out to be the sort that you don't want living next door. Although comments that they are "orangutan-sized" are surely exaggerated, they're said to be bigger and bolder than ever before, and they don't stick to the vacant properties, either. One terrorized neighbor reported that they invaded her home:
“I came down the hallway, went into my bedroom and barricaded myself until morning because I know they’re nocturnal. The next morning, I went into the kitchen. I had the window up, but I have bars on my window. He or she had clawed the screen and squeezed through the bars in the kitchen. There were some corn curls in a bag on the counter. That was all over the floor [along with] some dry macaroni.

The raccoons keep bad company - other squatters in the vacant homes include drug dealers - and a city administrator says that now that they've learned to live in our houses, these big bad furballs are here to stay.

“It’s almost impossible to cull the raccoon population because nature abhors a vacuum. If you remove the raccoons, something else is going to move in. It might be skunks. It might be raccoons from elsewhere. As long as the habitat is good for them to live in, they’re going to keep moving back in.”

Raccoons aren't the only animals that are evolving as a result of living alongside humans. One recent study demonstrated that pet rodents are smarter than their wild counterparts.

After seeing what becomes of raccoons living a civilized life in our houses, I think we need to reconsider our breeding strategies. Do we really want our domestic animals to be more intelligent? Are we sure we can stand the competition?

Detail of photo of raccoon home invasion by Flickr user Pip R. Lagenta.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Anti-Emu Heroics from South Carolina

This blog has reported more than once on the recurring problem of emus on the loose. Setting a high standard for how to react in this situation were a group of citizens of Rock Hill, South Carolina:

Dauntless but "sure enough there was an ostrich runnin' right by my nose so I couldn't just sit by and do nothin'," house painter Jerry Gibson armed himself with an electric drop cord Tuesday morning and took off running after the giant bird that ran 5 feet from his unbelieving eyes.

The large flightless bird was actually an emu, but no one stopped to consult a reference book. Rather, neighbors leapt to assist, or at least encourage.

"Get him!" screamed Ginger Strong in her bed slippers.
"Get a rope!" howled animal rescuer Sheila Dover.
"Get this rope around his neck!" screamed out Billy Grayson, who sure enough had a rope around his neck for just that purpose.

If you've never been up close with an emu, don't downplay the nerve required here. They've got feet like a dinosaur and an attitude to match:

"Figured I could get up to him and lasso him," said Gibson. "I was right about gettin' up to him. Had him by the neck feathers. Wrong about the lassoing though. And he sure give me a fight when I tried to grab a hold of him. Tough sucker, strong, he run off on me."

Gibson tells no tales either, as that emu scraped him on his leg and arm after he pulled a sneak attack near a fence just off Main Street. Although Gibson grabbed onto that emu like a mother-in-law grabbing a purse off a 75-percent-off sale rack, he got bullrushed by the emu for his trouble and left bloodied yet unbowed.

And, showing that it's never too late to join the fight against bad animal behavior, the hero of the day was a 75-year-old:

The chase added dozens of Pied Piper-like chasers including the cops, and culminated with the emu's capture by a veteran emu wrangler who just so happens to be a senior citizen with Popeye forearms named Bobby Mangrum. Mangrum was armed with nothing but a fishing net and a bellyful of courage.

"Got him!" Mangrum called out as he tackled the bird, then got some help to keep the emu down until Mangrum could tie the emu up with a dog leash an officer named Sgt. Lee McKellar grabbed from one of the chasers just in the nick of time.

Read the whole story by Andrew Dys at the Herald Online. I mean it, go read this one; I'm really going to have to start giving some kind of award for local coverage of bad animals, and along with the recent goose story from Illinois, this one's a definite nominee.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Baboons await influx of unsuspecting tourists in South Africa

Roving bands of baboon thieves are nothing new - for example, we've recently reported on them attacking the wine grape crop in South Africa.

And it might be fair to say that people who choose to go to a drive-through safari park have only themselves to blame when they encounter primates that have learned to open rooftop luggage carriers.

But even tourists who're carefully stashing their passport in an inside pocket and staying to the main roads are at risk in South Africa, and authorities are concerned that the upcoming World Cup may result in mayhem that has nothing to do with soccer hooligans.

At one scenic outlook near Cape Town, a particular baboon called Fred has made a career of trying the handles of parked cars. Baboon tracker Mark Duffell explains:
"He'll hit four or five cars in like five minutes. Fred's operation is to open car doors. He leaves normally with a handbag. Until he's satisfied he's got all the food, don't try get the bag back."

Fred has bitten at least three tourists, and the baboons are not only brazen thieves, they're also sexist pigs. Efforts to move them along with whistles, shouts, and whip-cracks have to be conducted by men, because the baboons ignore women.

Concerns are rising in the leadup to the World Cup because, as readers of this blog know, the only thing that's worse than a badly behaved animal is when you add a human to the equation. Scientists agree that people are part of the problem:
A machismo-fuelled football fan taking on Fred is baboon expert Justin O'Riain's worst fear.

and that, despite clearly stated warnings, they are just as hard to train:
"The city council spends a fortune on putting signs up -- 90 percent of this happens right underneath these signs," said Duffell.

See video here that may very well be Fred (as well as similar behavior elsewhere in Africa here). And that's probably also the same culprit in the photo above from Flickr user Tim Ellis.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Dog explores new horizons in barf and bad behavior

If you have a dog, a barfing canine is not news. And if you read this blog you know that it's nothing unusual for a dog driver to cause a car accident.

But I'm begrudgingly impressed by the creativity of one dog in Minnesota who managed to put the two together:
A Lewiston, Minn., man told Winona police he lost control of his car and crashed it into a power line pole because his dog puked on him, police said.

Officers found the car unattended about 10:25 a.m. Thursday in the 1250 block of Lakeview Avenue, Deputy Police Chief Tom Williams said... Witnesses reported the driver was last seen leaving the area while walking a beagle.

Michael Allen Butler, 18, called police about 2:25 p.m. Thursday and said he was the person driving the car.

Butler told police he was driving on Lakeview Avenue when a dog in the car began “throwing up all over him,” causing him to lose control and crash. His story was corroborated when police found vomit in the car.

Speaking of dogs and car accidents, despite the hard work we do here to inform the public, apparently many are still ignorant of the wide range of common bad animal behavior. In Wisconsin, when a dog that was left in a parked car went for a joyride and caused an accident, the police, who obviously don't read this blog, said it was the first time they'd seen a car collision with a canine driver.

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