Thursday, September 30, 2010

The truth about penguins

Continuing our recognition of Banned Books Week, we consider a particular favorite of banners, the picture book And Tango Makes Three, about a gay penguin couple that raises an adopted chick.

As I've mentioned before on this occasion, the usual objection to this book is that it is a positive portrayal of homosexuality. But the real objection should be that it is a positive portrayal of penguin family life.

The fairy-tale relationship between the adults portrayed in "Tango" bears little resemblance to reality. Divorce rates in various species of penguins are close to fifty percent, and promiscuous behavior is rampant. In one species, one-third to one-half of heterosexual activity is adulterous, and nearly half of the gay sex involves married men getting it on the side. And in case that's not enough, they also pleasure themselves by using tufts of grass as sex aids.

We've seen before on this blog that penguin family life is less idyllic than the heartwarming situation depicted in this book. We've noted research that shows that penguins won't work harder to help a handicapped spouse; we've also seen the story of a female penguin that broke up a gay couple that had raised a chick together - just like the one in the book.

There is no excuse for banning books, but still, there are some things that impressionable children should not be exposed to. If they read propaganda like this, they're going to grow up to have the same unrealistic notions about animals as today's adults: that dolphins are mystical geniuses instead of gang rapists and cross-species sexual harassers and more; that lions are noble royalty instead of lazy babykillers; and perhaps most dangerous of all, that dogs are our best friends.

We owe the youth of America better than this. We owe them the truth, and this blog will continue to provide it.

Penguin facts thanks to Biological Exuberance by Bruce Bagemihl; penguin photo by friend of the blog MisterQueue.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Banned Thoughts about Bad Behavior

In honor of Banned Books Week, today we consider a book about animals that could never be published today.

Sadly, this book would probably never get to the point of being banned. It would never get written, due to the self-censorship or self-delusion practiced by most writers about animals nowadays.

Who's Who in the Zoo: A Natural History of Mammals was produced by the WPA Federal Writers' Project in New York and published in 1942.

The writers were unconstrained by modern notions of political correctness. Happily informing us which animals are used for their fur, desired by big-game hunters for trophies, and good to eat, this book also advises that all sorts of wildlife make suitable pets, including marmosets, coatis, skunks and raccoons.

The authors also have no qualms about insulting animals where it's called for and revealing unpleasant truths about animal behavior. Here are just a few instructive excerpts:

Other species of South American monkeys are less surly in captivity than the Howler.

When a Marmoset is mischievous a slap will not cause it to behave, but it quickly obeys when its ears are pinched or bitten.

Domesticated (Indian) elephants are used to capture the wild ones. Two tame elephants will squeeze a wild one between them, holding until their masters have bound its legs with chains.

The Babirusa is one of the ugliest of the wild swine.

The Guanaco is so stupid that the native Patagonian Indians are able to surround the herds and club many of their members to death.

The mother (Tiger) rarely deserts the young in infancy, unless hard pressed. But she has been known to eat her kittens when food was scarce.

The Camel is known to have served man for the last 5000 years, but despite long domestication it has a very ugly disposition and is not attached to its master.

One also has to admire their skill at getting in a dig at large groups of animals while weakly complimenting one of them, as exemplified by this remark about the capybara:

Largest of all living rodents, the Capybaras are the least obnoxious

It's sad that so few of us are carrying on this noble tradition of honesty and devotion to the truth. This blog, at least, promises to continue to uphold it.

Babirusa by Flickr user cactusbeetroot.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Bad birds

-In Britain, a bird gets in a 2-for-1 deal, being bad both to a fellow bird and to a totally innocent human: A seagull caught an escaped pet parakeet, and then dropped it on the head of a unsuspecting pedestrian:

‘It was just the last thing you’d expect when you’re walking along eating a pack of chips. I felt something scrape my head then saw it bounce off and hit a shop window. I couldn’t believe it when I saw it was a budgie."

-And in Columbia, a parrot has been taken into custody by police as part of a conspiracy to sell drugs:

According to environmental authorities, Lorenzo the parrot was trying to tip-off a local drug cartel when officers conducted an undercover raid.

"This parrot was sending out alerts," said Environmental Police Officer Hollman Oliveira. "You could say he was some sort of watch bird."

Lorenzo caused quite the stir as he was presented to journalists. The well-trained creature even showed off his look out skills as he yelled out: "Run, run you are going to get caught."

Perhaps the most shocking part of this news is that Lorenzo is merely the tip of a pstittacine criminal iceberg: authorities claimed to have seized over 1700 similarly trained parrots, and he was not alone in this case either: Four men and two other birds were also arrested in the raid.

See the whole story with video here.

Photo of another unhappy victim of Budgie-on-Head Syndrome by Flickr user Lodigs.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Baaaad behavior

I could post today about the escaped monkey that trapped a woman in her garage in San Antonio, but I wouldn't want readers to get the idea that monkeys and dogs are all we have to worry about. For example, you don't want to let your guard down around sheep. You may think they're cute and wooly, but ask the couple in England who came home after a ram crashed through their home's glass patio door:

The ram was unharmed but left a trial of destruction in its wake. Paula Smith and her husband Ed thought their home had been raided by burglars when they returned from a walk.

Mr Smith was reporting the break-in to the police when Paula's uncle phoned to explain.

Mrs Smith, who runs a livery, said: "We saw all the glass and all the mess and we were very scared.

"For about 15 minutes I was racking my brain wondering if I'd upset anyone for them to do this, while my husband was on the phone to the police reporting it.

"As he was doing that, my mobile rang and it was my uncle saying the farmer was trying to get in touch."

It's estimated that the damage will cost thousands of pounds to repair. Mrs Smith goes on to describe the details:

"The whole house stank because of the muck it left behind and I've had to throw out the rug in the living room.

"The carpets have to be replaced, because we can't get the stains out, half of the range cooker we can't use because the door's wrecked and the hob doesn't work. The patio door can't be replaced for another month.

"We've had to board it up but because it's been raining. It's damp and that smells now too.

"It's going to be a big job to sort out because the walls will need replastering because of the way the door was damaged."

And don't think this is an isolated incident:

Tim Price, of NFU Mutual, which is handling the insurance claim over the incident on August 29, said: "At this time of year, when sheep are coming into season, it is quite common for rams to see their reflection in something shiny, think it's a competitor, then attack it.

"Cars are more often affected if they are parked by fields or in moorland. Rams will see their reflection in a mirror or a hub cab and start fighting and owners will come back to a lot of dents."

Sure sounds like he is awfully familiar with the extent of the sheep-rampage problem, and who would know better than an insurance agent?

Frighteningly close sheep by Flickr user Brenda Anderson.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Take action against monkey madness

We're glad to report that the Japanese citizens being terrorized by monkeys, as reported in our last post, are not taking this situation lying down. Not only are there teams of officials, police, and volunteers on the hunt, but one town has decided to offer a $2,400 reward for a single macaque that's broken into houses and attacked 43 people.

And elsewhere, our old friend the Tampa Bay Mystery Monkey has finally revealed a weakness: vanity. He's been spotted more than once visiting a mirrored garden ornament (photo above) where he gazes at his own reflection.

Could this be his downfall? Surely some qualified monkey-catcher is going to step up and stake out this backyard? We await further news.

Monday, September 13, 2010

More monkey mayhem

Last week we saw evidence of an increasing trend toward troublemaking alligators, but novelty shouldn't lead us to neglect the activities of our most reliable, traditional culprits: monkeys.

Gangs of rampaging monkeys have been attacking people in Japan, in two towns near Mount Fuji. More than 60 people have been victims, and the motive?
Animal experts believe the monkeys may be biting and scratching people for fun, predicting the attacks should stop once they become bored.

In India, a monkey is stealing eyeglasses from an office, making off with five pairs of spectacles so far.

Fortunately, experts are giving the victims good advice, for a change:
"If we start offering them some reward to get the items back, then they start looking for such opportunities. They should be scared not rewarded."

Finally, our old friends the drunk baboons of South Africa have been invading homes and interfering with civilized existence:
"Lunch parties in the garden are now just impossible," a homeowner complained. "It is so unrelaxing. Rather than chatting over our meal, we are looking over our shoulders and bolting the food as quickly as we can before it is stolen. We can't even leave a window open in summer."

Truly, what is this world coming to?

Thanks for the spectacle-stealing-simian tip and photo to Monkey Day, for all your monkey news needs.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Alligator Roundup

It seems like we need an alligator roundup literally, not just metaphorically. We're seeing a rash of alligators wandering around the United States where they shouldn't be:

An alligator is found wandering down the street in Brockton, outside Boston, dragging a broken leash;

A man in Michigan finds an alligator in his corn field;

TWO alligators have been captured recently out of the Chicago river;

And finally, maybe there are alligators in the sewers of New York City after all, although typically, the reporter feels sympathy rather than some more appropriate emotion:
It seemed less like a menacing predator, more like an abandoned pet cowering under a car, forlornly hoping for tips on how to play its role. In fact, it reminded me of me, at every publishing party I'd attended during my first years in New York.

I am not sure what to make of all this, but it can't be good. Watch your backs.

Photo of Chicago capture by "Alligator Bob" from the Chicago Tribune.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Bad Animals and Bad Guys

There is no honor among thieves, it is said. And bad guys can't count on bad animals, as drug dealers in widely dispersed parts of the world discovered recently. Luckily for the law-abiding among us, it's hard to know exactly how much to feed your animal employees to ensure their loyalty:

-In Canada, overfeeding bears with the munchies proved to be a bad strategy:
A pair of marijuana growers in Western Canada appear to have been using bears to protect their illegal crop, but the well-fed animals proved to be a bit lax in their guard duties, police said on Wednesday...

Officers were initially worried the bears might be dangerous, but quickly realized the animals were actually very docile and content just to sit around as the marijuana was seized, police said in a news release.

-And in Italy, going too far in the other direction backfired:

Police raiding a drug den in the Italian capital have been confronted by an aggressive albino python which was used to intimidate addicts.

Police had been tipped off that they would find "an animal" during the raid on the apartment in the centre of Rome, and when they opened the door they saw a striped yellow and white snake curled up on a heat mat.

The snake, which was three metres long and was kept hungry so that it would be more aggressive, was allowed to roam the apartment to scare addicts into paying for their drugs, police said.

Animal services were called to capture the snake, which was tempted into captivity using a whole chicken and sent to a nearby zoo.

Albino python with no known connection to the drug trade by Flickr user Tambako the Jaguar.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

What will they think of next

Animals have plenty of weapons to use against us: teeth, claws, kicking hooves, horns... but they don't stop there. You think that bird droppings are only a threat to statues? Ask the members of the band Kings of Leon, who were forced off stage in St. Louis by pigeon poop:

The bassist Jared Followhill had already been hit several times during the first two songs, including in the face.

He said: "We had 20 songs on the set list. By the end of the show, I would have been covered from head to toe."

Andy Mendelsohn, the manager of the Nashville band, said: "Jared was hit several times during the first two songs. On the third song, when he was hit in the cheek and some of it landed near his mouth, they couldn't deal any longer."

And don't think bird poop is only a tool of music criticism: when a man in Sydney was killed when a shop awning fell on him, it may have been more than an accident:

It was known to contain a large quantity of pigeon droppings, from birds that had made the awning their home.

Some live birds and nests were even found in the wreckage.

The council is examining whether a combination of rain water and the droppings were too much for the awning’s supports to take.

Ominous pigeons by Flickr user shawn-i-am.