Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Bovine bad behavior is a path to stardom

Back in October we met a cow named Laura who discovered that bad behavior was more than its own reward. She invaded a shopping mall, chewed up a bunch of merchandise, and rather than being punished, was offered an endorsement deal to appear in ads for the clothing she had demolished.

Another European cow made the news for a more protracted episode of bad behavior this past year - and now she's got herself an even bigger prize. Yvonne made a break for it in Bavaria in May and caused great controversy over several months on the lam. After failing to capture her, the police were authorized to shoot on sight, allegedly because of the danger she posed to motorists. This caused an uproar among Yvonne's fan, and she was then purchased from her original owners by an animal sanctuary that was determined to save her.

These sentimental cow-huggers tracked Yvonne with helicopters and all-terrain vehicles and tried to lure her back to family life, using her own calf and then a bull so handsome that press dubbed him a "George Clooney among cattle." She was having none of it, so they finally had to resort to a more conventional method: tranquilizer darts.

Since being captured in September Yvonne has been living in luxury, but it turns out that's not the end of the story: Now, she's been offered a movie deal.

No word yet on what kind of artistic control she's negotiated or what she's demanding in her dressing room. But this is a lady who smashed through a 8,000 volt electric fence and needed a double dose of tranquilizer to finally bring her down. We're glad we don't have to negotiate with this tempermental star.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Relatives Behaving Badly

It's that time of year again: When you wonder why you bother having an Amazon wishlist if people are just going to buy you a bunch of junk you don't want anyway.

If you have to go and order your own copy of the Animals Behaving Badly book because no one gave it to you for Christmas, Hanukkah, or whatever other holiday you pretend to celebrate when your parents are watching, why not also consider these other fine items by friends of the blog?

You can read about some animals behaving mostly not badly, but certainly unconventionally, in Animals Aloft!, a book of photographs and anecdotes about animals in the early history of aviation. It's by our friends at the Janus Museum, a site which is well worth your attention.

Do you feel just a little guilty about reading this blog and revelling in the dark side of animals? Salve your conscience by supporting pit bull rescue by buying the calendar from Pinups for Pitbulls, which is full of photos of good dogs and lovely ladies like the one above. You could also pre-order what will no doubt be a noble and heartwarming book about Soldier Dogs by Maria Goodavage at Dogster.

And don't forget you can probably still get some of the stuff from our holiday shopping guide (part one and part two.)

We return on Thursday to your regularly scheduled bad animal coverage.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Penguin poo panda protest

When one bad animal is pitted against another, you might think I'd want them both to lose. But in this conflict, the choice of side is a black-and-white one.

This blog has often bemoaned the inexplicable human obsession with pandas. At zoos, they do nothing but sit there while people flock to see them. There is even scientific evidence that the panda is basically a crummy animal. One researcher recently commented that, looking at its bamboo-digesting capabilities:
"I see a very badly adapted animal. The main way the panda has adapted to the low-quality diet is not via microbiota, like the vast majority of other animals, but by eating 15 hours per day."

But boring behavior and inferior biology are helpless to counteract the effects of a cute black and white face with those adorable little eye patches. The urge to produce baby pandas is so overwhelming some keepers are even willing to make fools of themselves dressing up in panda suits to raise them.

And this obsession has serious consequences. As we've noted before, not even scientists are immune to the lure of the cute animal, with far more attention going to conservation of conventionally attractive, big furry creatures.

In a recent example of this bias, the National Zoo recently got a donation of 4.5 million dollars to its panda breeding program. One wonders how many entire species of, say, critically endangered frogs, could be saved from extinction with this amount of money. Instead, it'll be used to produce a baby animal that, judging from photos like the one above, we seem to have plenty of - in China where the darn things belong.

So we're heartened by a recent story out of Scotland, where the Edinburgh Zoo recently acquired a pair of pandas, with great fanfare mostly drowning out the few voices of reason proclaiming them a big cuddly waste of money.

But some zoo residents are expressing their opinion in the clearest and most un-ignorable way possible. Rockhopper penguins are gathering along the edge of their exhibit, which looks out over the long line of vistors waiting to see the pandas, and pooping on them:
A 41-year-old, who was standing in the panda queue on Sunday said: "We were queuing to see the pandas when a man in front shouted out in surprise that his jacket had been hit by a big dollop of penguin poo.

It just missed me and my family and it was really oily and stank of fish. It was disgusting."

The zoo is, of course, planning to build a barrier to protect the panda-obsessed, but we are pleased to praise these penguins for their stinking salvos in the anti-panda cause.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Traditions and trends news briefs

It's a time of year when traditions take center stage. Some prefer precise repetition, with every ornament on the tree in the same place; others want to push the envelope, stuffing the turkey with new-fangled ingredients instead of using Mom's old-time recipe.

Bad animal have traditions, too, and like us, some of them are old-school, and some are pushing the envelope:

-Dogs shooting their owners with guns: it's so common that it made it into the subtitle of the book - and they're not stopping now.

In Utah, a dog in a boat with some duck hunters jumped onto a shotgun and shot one of them in the butt. The man was taken to the hospital, where he was treated and released. Those of you who object to hunting will no doubt be pleased by local news reports that "The dog and any ducks within range at the time of the accident were uninjured."

A more serious case occurred in Florida, where a bulldog named Eli in shot his owner in the thigh with a rifle while in a truck on a hunting trip. Reports called the shooting "unintentional" despite the fact the dog had to release the safety before being able to shoot the gun. The 78-year-old victim was shot in a major artery and and as of last Tuesday was still on a ventilator.

-Bears scavenging for garbage and even breaking into homes is nothing new, but they're taking it to a new level. I thought I was impressed by the bear in Vancouver that actually hitched a ride on a garbage truck (video here) until I read about the bear that had been living for weeks in a basement in New Jersey.

The animal had built a bed of leaves and branches and was ready for a comfy winter till a cable TV guy came to make a repair. He heard a growl and turned to find himself facing a 500 pound black bear:
"I just freaked out, threw my tools, ran out of the basement."
It took a hour-long chase for animal control officers to tranquilize and capture the bear. The homeowner plans to start keeping his basement locked, and maybe you want to check all your doors as well.

-Finally, what may be a new trend: we recently saw a seal trying to get into someone's house in Australia.

That one didn't make it, but seals seem to be taking this as an ongoing project, and the second attempt was a success. No doubt realizing our weakness for the cute, this time the seals sent a baby to perform the mission. After making its way from the water across busy roads, up a long driveway, under a gate and through the cat door, it made itself at home on a sofa.

Fortunately, they chose a victim that had more sense than most. The New Zealand woman at first thought she was hallucinating, then, she said:
"Then it looks at me with those huge brown eyes. It was so cute, but I didn't touch it because you don't with wild animals."

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Profound quotes roundup

A quick look at a few stories that on the one hand may deserve more in-depth coverage, but on the other hand, can be summed up in one quote:

-It was recently announced that the city of Berlin will be allowing a wild boar hunting season. If you've read the book, you know that wild boars in Europe have been invading cities, often charging into homes and buildings and chasing innocent humans through the streets. Why, you might wonder, don't these animals stay in the forest where they belong? One expert says there's a simple explanation.
In the forest, the food is not that interesting. In the city, there is an entire menu. The boars are like the French. They like good food.

-Earlier this year, a South African farmer was in the news boasting of his relationship with his pet hippo, frolicking for the camera as in the photo above. He summed it up like this:
Humphrey's like a son to me, he's just like a human.

Perhaps he was right, but not in the way he seemed to mean: Last month, he was found dead after his beloved hippo attacked him.

-And finally, if you think you're safe because you live at a great distance from wild boars and hippos: From an excellent story in Esquire - not one of my usual bad animal news sources - by a man whose house was infested with ants, here's what he learned about them:
They’re not in your underwear by accident. They’re nation-building.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Truth is scarier than fiction

Last week we saw an argument that bad behavior leads to the development of intelligence. This is a worrying notion, since superior intelligence means an animal can commit even more sophisticated offenses. Considering all the bad behavior I have documented, the possibility of such a truly vicious circle means that we need to be watching our backs.

Or, perhaps, we should be watching the skies, because quite a lot of recent research shows that birds - especially crows and ravens - are already a whole lot more intelligent than we thought.

You might read these reports and think them just a curiosity. One recent study showed that crows can remember the color of a container with food in it up to a year later. A good memory might not seem like a threat, but if you had a good memory, you'd remember our earlier post: Crows can also remember the faces of people who have annoyed them, and can use this knowledge to teach other crows who to attack.

Another scientist has shows that wild ravens can use gestures to communicate. You may think that gestures are primitive compared to language. But before this, experts thought that only primates could do this naturally, without being taught by humans. So not only are birds more intelligent than we thought, but have a way to communicate silently when they're sneaking up on us.

Perhaps most ominously, it's been shown that crows have what scientists call a "theory of mind," meaning they can see the world from another's point of view.

Why is this a problem? Most bunnyhugging animal lovers would no doubt jump to the conclusion that this means they are empathetic and care about your feelings. But knowing what another creature knows has a very important consequence: Now you know how to deceive them. And this is exactly what the researcher saw:
Out in the wild, jays and other corvids will hide food in the ground. We experimented with them, hiding food in two types of tray — one full of pebbles which was noisy when disturbed, and another full of sand which was quiet.

If other birds couldn’t see them hiding the food because they were behind a screen, but could still hear them, the jays picked the sand and were as quiet as mice when they buried food. But if other birds were watching, or if they were on their own, they realized that it didn’t matter how noisy they were.

If the birds were being watched when they hid their food, they rushed to move it to another hiding place as soon as the other watching birds were out of sight

The same researcher has also shown crows can plan ahead better than young human children. There's also the fairly old news that they can use tools - but more recent research has shown they can use up to three tools in sequence to achieve a goal.

So these birds know whether you're watching them, can communicate stealthily, hold a grudge and pass it on to their friends, and can use technology. Also take note of this interesting fact about their strength of character: researchers in Australia found that crows are able to delay gratification, waiting up to five minutes to swap a piece of food for something better.

And crows have plenty of reasons to resent us. While most birds are beloved for their grace and beauty, crows are seen as pests. A flock of bluebirds in your backyard would be considered a magical experience; a flock of crows is a different story. Even possibly the most animal-hugging city in the country, San Francisco, uses pesticides on ravens and crows.

It's said revenge is a dish best served cold, and it's clear that these birds have both the planning skills and the moral fiber to wait for the right moment. Like I said, watch the skies.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Runs in the family

Again and again on this blog, we see that scientists and other alleged experts are the worst offenders when it comes to enabling bad animal behavior. They're constantly making excuses: A seal that drowned a dog was "curious," a wombat violently attacked a man because it was suffering from mange, a thieving baboon was "corrupted" by tourists. We've even seen the claim - in two different cases!- that dogs who ate their owners' toes were doing them a favor.

But even after all that, I was astounded by a recent headline:

Researchers find poop-throwing by chimps is a sign of intelligence

According to the folks at, a recent paper by three neuroscientists proves that if our distant ancestors hadn't thrown feces, we'd never have evolved language.

The argument is based on a brain imaging study. The researchers found that the more a chimp throws, the more its brain is developed in an area that's crucial to human speech.

The scientists also found that the chimps who were the best throwers were the best at communicating with other chimps. What's more, their skill wasn't due to being the big tough guys:
which the researchers suggest means that throwing didn’t develop as a means of hunting, but as a form of communication within groups, i.e. throwing stuff at someone else became a form of self expression, which is clearly evident to anyone who has ever been targeted by a chimp locked up in a zoo.

The claim that chimps throw stuff because they're smart is bad enough. But the argument that the pinnacle of our own species' distinctiveness is based on the lowest possible sort of prank is downright offensive. We're supposed to believe that language is just a sophisticated way of throwing shit? I've read a lot of nonsense by scientists while researching this blog, but I never -

Hmm, wait a minute. That makes a heckuva lot of sense, doesn't it?

Unsurprising zoo sign by Flickr user thepatrick.

Bad Animal Holiday Shopping Guide, Part 2

Welcome to Part 2 of our bad-animal-themed shopping guide for the holidays. We begin (we'll get to that photo in a moment) with this t-shirt by John Allison available at TopatoCo:

Yes, we did already see a bear-warning t-shirt in Part 1 of the shopping guide, but it's encouraging to know that bear-knowledgable shoppers actually have a range of fashion choices.

Along the same lines you might also consider the Ways to Die shirt from our friends at Squidfire, which prominently features the result of not heeding the warning on the other two shirts. (Squidfire is the designs of Kevin Sherry, who illustrated the - you didn't think I'd miss a chance to mention this, did you? - Animals Behaving Badly book.)

UPDATE: TopatoCo actually has an entire T-Shirt category "Animals Doing Things That They Aren't Supposed to be Doing."

But what if you don't want to wear something that just illustrates the bad behavior of animals? What if you want to wear something that will let you actively demonstrate it? What if you want to BE a bad animal?

Well, we can do this thing, with the help again of our friends at Archie McPhee: buy their Creepy Horse Mark. The mask is useful for frightening pugs, as in the photo above, and I speak from personal experience when I say that they deserve it.

You can buy the mask and see much more inspiration for deploying it at But if that's not enough for you, you can be the bad animal with the cutest reputation of all: McPhee also sells a full-body panda suit.

PS: And before you buy a gift FOR your own bad animals, I recommend that you read my post on this subject at my publisher's blog.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Bad Animal Holiday Shopping Guide, Part 1

Of course the first item on the list you sent to Santa was the Animals Behaving Badly book. But you need to ask everyone else to buy you something too, right? And while of course you're buying the book for your friends, some of them already have it, because you're the kind of person whose friends are clever and have impeccable taste.

So you need more ideas for bad-animal-themed gifts, and this blog isn't going to let you down.

To start you've got the T-shirt with the illustration above, from Natalie Dee at You might also want to consider their Mister Friendly Cat - be careful to read the fine print on that one. (Order by Friday for Christmas delivery.)

The danger of excessive animal love is a recurring theme on this blog, and our friends at Archie McPhee have personified this with the Crazy Cat Lady Action Figure:

You can also play the Crazy Cat Lady Board Game (win by being the most successful hoarder of kitties). And don't forget the Hairball Bubble Gum. Carry that cute little tin around and you'll always have a tasty reminder of the eternal question: why the hell do people let cats into their homes, anyway?

Come back for more suggestions later in the week.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Another noble reputation bruised by science

The PR machine for wolves has been in full swing for many years now. Their former reputation as a ruthless killing machine has been largely replaced by the story that this animal is family-oriented, cooperative, and highly intelligent. "It is an animal that cares for its sick, protects its family," say some of its defenders, and is "capable of not only emotion but also real compassion." They are "extremely devoted to their pack." It's even been argued that that wolves have a sense of right and wrong.

Yeah, yeah. You know where this is going, right?

Two pieces of recent research show that the intelligent, cooperative behavior of wolf packs might not be all it's cracked up to be:

-The hunting behavior of wolves, while it seems complex to an observer, might not require a high degree of intelligence after all. Researchers programmed a computer to reproduce the behavior of a hunting pack, and it turned out that all it took was two simple rules:

(1) move towards the prey until a minimum safe distance to the prey is reached, and (2) when close enough to the prey, move away from the other wolves that are close to the safe distance to the prey.

No planning, foresight, judgement or strategy. No communication and no fancy pack hierarchy. Just two simple, automatic, mindless rules.

-Larger packs of wolves aren't better at hunting than smaller ones. You know why? Because most wolves are lazy freeloaders. No matter how big the pack is, only four wolves do any of the work. The rest just hang back and let those four do all the hard, dangerous stuff, then share in the kill. What's more, the ones who work the hardest are the one who have the most to risk - the ones with babes at home.

These animals "superficially appeared to be cooperating," say the researchers. But apparently the real reason they are so "devoted to their pack" is that they are getting something for nothing.

Of course, it's only fair to say that for a lot of us humans, our work also consists of following mindless rules, and God knows many of us only superficially appear to be cooperating. All I'm saying is, let's just remember that even the most allegedly noble animals are no better.

Big lazy yawn by Flickr user Arran Edmonstone.

Monday, November 28, 2011

New frontiers in bad bird behavior

Some bad animals stick to tradition: there'll always be a place for the dog who bites the mailman. But they never stop coming up with new ideas as well, as demonstrated recently in a town in Norway.

For quite some time, candles left on the graves at a cemetery in Skagen had been mysteriously disappearing. Grieving relatives even begged the thieves to stop in the newspaper - which turns out to have been pointless, because the robbers can't read. They're birds.

The culprits were identified when someone finally realized there was a connection to another problem, this time at the airport across the road from the graveyard. The runway had long been used as a tool by seagulls: they drop mollusks on the hard surface to crush the shells so they can get at the tasty meat inside. But more recently, broken glass was being found all over the runway as well.

It turns out that crows and magpies steal the grave candles, drop them on the runway to break their glass containers, then eat the wax to fatten up for the winter. Now that officials know what to look for, the evidence is clear: "We can see traces of beak marks in the candles," one said.

On the one hand, we might reassure ourselves that these birds aren't all that smart, since they can't tell which candles are edible before stealing them: Electric candles have been found blinking on the runway as well.

But on the other hand, one has to wonder if the attraction of the runway is more than the hard surface, and whether there's a more sinister plan at work here. After all, leaving glass all over the runway where it can blow out airplane tires is a good way to ensure there will be more candles to steal - by sending more people to the graveyard.

Thanks for the tip and translation to Bruce Morén-Duolljá of Animals Behaving Badly's Scandinavia bureau.

Ominous crows by Flickr user Jim Donnelly.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Turkey Revenge in the Big City

This blog has been covering the turkey menace since the beginning, most recently with actual video of an attack on a mail truck.

Don't fool yourself that you're safe because your Thanksgiving dinner takes place in an urban area. Follow the links in that first post and you'll see that as far back as 2007 turkeys were harrassing pedestrians on the main shopping street in Brookline, MA, just over the border from Boston. We've also seen them in Philadelphia. And if that doesn't convince you, how about New York City?

OK, so it's just Staten Island (says the kid from the Bronx) but that IS legally New York City. And it's only a ferry ride or strut across the bridge before the hipsters of Brooklyn and soon after, the bankers of Wall Street could be in their sights.

And remember, these are New York turkeys now. They don't mess around, as a couple of quotes from the Daily News reveal:
"The filthy animals are like a gang. They take over the street and yards and poop everywhere. It's disgusting."

"I one time saw a man at the red light taunting a turkey. His window was down and he was making noises at it. Next thing you know the light turned green and the turkey started chasing the car down the street, pecking at it."

Although this situation is getting a lot of coverage this year, it's not new. Local government has been trying without success to deal with the situation since at least 2007. Back then, one local commented:
"People with young children are afraid because the turkeys are very, very brazen. They’ll chase after dogs. They will sometimes get aggressive with people. And if you’re walking under the trees, it’s just like any bird: Plop!”

But ineffectual attempts at control have combined as usual with humans not knowing which side they are on. When one man frustrated by government inaction took the situation into his own hands, he was convicted of attempted animal cruelty for firing a barrage of bottle rockets at the turkeys.

So numbers have continued to grow, and the birds have only grown bolder. Another victim told the Daily News:
"It was straight out of 'Cujo,'" said dental assistant Gina Guaragno, 23. "I'm sitting in my car Facebooking on my phone when turkeys jumped on my windshield.

"I screamed like I was being murdered. They just kept looking at me like it was their car. I felt trapped. I was so scared."

The only small comfort we can take is that these may be New York turkeys, but they're up against New York humans: says one local,
"I've seen people grab them and put them in their cars always around Thanksgiving time. They are turkeys. It's Thanksgiving. They should look out or they will become someone's dinner."

Up close with a Staten Island turkey gang by brave Flickr user dazedeffect.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Bad Animal Sex Science Linkarama

Some recent headlines in cutting-edge research into the appalling sex lives of animals:

Jealous Hermaphrodite Shrimp Murder Their Rivals

Cleaner shrimp are pretty kinky creatures, able to reproduce both as male and female. They can't fertilize their own eggs, though, so they do need a partner. And when they get one, they don't take any chances. This research found that when tankmates molt, the shrimp take advantage of their vulnerable state to kill them. This continues until only one pair is left in the tank.

Spiders with good gifts get lucky for longer
This research reveals the gold-digging nature of female spiders. The males trade gifts for sex, and the females have upscale tastes:
Male nursery web spiders carefully prepare silk-wrapped gifts to woo potential mates into having sex. But if the present is worthless -- like inedible plant seeds or the tasteless remains of eaten prey -- mating ends abruptly.

Dolphins team up to get the girl
Uh, right. They make it sound so charming, but, as readers of this blog should be well aware, dolphins are known gang rapists. The research reported in this article investigated why they do this. (Apparently "because they are assholes" is never enough for a scientist.) The results show that dolphins in these gangs are more likely to sire offspring. Big surprise, since as the researcher notes, "The female can't get away from them."

Dolphin doing the sort of job these filthy animals deserve by Flickr user septuagesima.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Just a phase?

Another penguin soap opera is in the news, this time in Canada. The Toronto Zoo is planning to split up a pair of male penguins so they can do their duty to carry on the species.

Scientists hesistate to use human terms like "gay" for animal relationships, but the two are exhibiting the same courtship behavior as male-female penguin pairs, including a mating call similar to the bray of a donkey. (Hey, as long as it works for them, right?) Said one zoo official, "It’s a complicated issue, but they seem to be in a loving relationship of some sort."

Loving or no, unfortunately, these penguins are shirking their responsibilities. Their species is endangered, and their population in captivity needs to be carefully monitored to retain its genetic diversity. Penguins are moved around to different zoos for mating, and even heterosexual pairs may be split up if they're not considered a good genetic match.

These two penguins were brought to Toronto from Pittsburgh specifically to mate with two of their females, and it's not the ladies' fault that it hasn't worked out. "The two girls have been following them," said the zoo's curator of birds, "we just have to get the boys interested in looking at them."

We've seen gay penguin controversy before. The most famous case, of course, is that of the penguins from the Central Park zoo who had a much-banned children's book written about them.

But before you leap to this couple's defense with accusations of zookeeper homophobia, remember it's not like it's always humans who break up these relationships. We've also seen a pair of male penguins who raised a chick together - and then one of them left his mate for a female.

Penguins also sometimes neglect their reproductive responsibilities for even more inappropriate partners. That photo is of a German penguin who fell in love with a boot.

And scientists have suggested the penguin same-sex attractions are, yes, just a phase: in the wild, they eventually ditch them for an opposite-sex relationship.

But in any case, in the end, the zoo says that the separation will last only as long as breeding season: once the males have gotten a female pregnant, everyone can go ahead and do whatever they want. We'll find out then exactly how serious these boys were about their forbidden love.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Pugs rule

That is Wilma the Pug, who, you will not be surprised to learn, won one of the copies of the Animals Behaving Badly book, mostly because she links to this blog on her blog, but also, because I can only fight so many fights against bad animals and there were two other votes in the household from the pug overlords.

There were two copies designated for the people who came up with the best links to the blog, and the second one goes to Asherdan for posting a link in his signature in the most animal-lover politically-incorrect place possible.

And the copy chosen by pug randomizer goes to... (drum roll).... Jaydub!

The pugs thank everyone for playing.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Animals don't appreciate what they've got

Haven't you always thought it would be amazing if you could fly? I don't mean in a big clunky metal tube powered by fossil fuel. I mean, like a bird - just spread your wings and go whereever you want. No traffic jams, a terrific view, fresh air. We've all dreamed about it, right?

Well, not all birds appreciate how lucky they are. In Sweden, a bunch of pigeons have decided that they'd rather take public transportation:

"They stand calmly at the platform and wait for the subway train to arrive. When it does they get on, travel one stop, jump off and then head for their favourite haunts," Rasmus Sandsten, press spokeperson for underground operator MTR, told The Local.

The pigeons are believed to live somewhere near Farsta Strand, in south Stockholm, and travel daily one stop to nearby shopping centre Farsta Centrum where there are many cafés and plenty of food to be found.

According to Sandsten, the most likely explanation is that one pigeon first got stuck on the metro by accident.

"Then, when it saw where it ended up it thought; 'this was a great idea'. Sooner or later more of them followed suit," Sandsten said.

After foraging in the trash at the shopping center, apparently most return home in a more conventional manner, since pigeons are rarely seen travelling in the opposite direction. Maybe they want to work off the calories, but I suspect they're just not smart enough to figure out how to make the return trip.

Despite the bad reputation pigeons have in some quarters, the transit agency has received no complaints. The birds are wisely keeping a low profile: "They behave well while on board and don't seem to be making much of a mess. They also choose to travel later in the day, cleverly avoiding rush hour."

However, although this story is being picked up as weird news all over the place, it's not a recent development, even in Sweden. The transit spokesman went on to explain that conductors first reported a gang of pigeons using the trains in the 1990s. "And since then the birds have been spotted getting on the subway at stations all over Stockholm," he said.

And in fact, lazy pigeons are a worldwide phenomenon in cities with subways. That photo up there was taken in the New York subway by LarimdaME on Flickr, where you can also find photographic evidence of pigeons on the Boston T, London tube, in the subway in Toronto, waiting for the Paris Metro, BART... And it goes without saying, of course, that none of them pay the fare.

So, as is often true, this bad animal news isn't news at all. It's just another of many cases where these animals are flying under our radar - or if they're too lazy for that, taking the subway under it.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The dark truth behind another charming fable

It's a recurring theme of this blog that the better the reputation an animal has, the worse the real truth. It's also a recurring theme that scientists and naturalists are among the worst when it comes to making excuses for bad animals.

But it's only fair to say that it's also scientists who often do the work of digging up those dirty truths, and today we've got one of those stories.

The greater honeyguide is a bird that gets its name from its allegedly helpful behavior guiding humans and honey badgers to beehives where they can get honey. No less an authority than science writer Ed Yong of Not Exactly Rocket Science was fooled into repeating this story recently. No fault of his, since as he points out, it appears in a number of respectable sources.

But as he then discovered, it's all lies. For at least two decades ornithologists have been trying to debunk this fable to no avail. A paper published in 1990 points out that over two centuries of research in Africa, "no biologist or naturalist, amateur or professional, has observed a Greater Honeyguide leading a Honey Badger to a beehive."

But the truth is no match for our desire to believe this stuff - especially when someone even faked a video of the legendary behavior using a stuffed bird and a tame badger.

And it turns out that it's not just that the helpful nature of honeyguides a lie. They've also got a murderous secret.

The honeyguide is a brood parasite - that's a bird that lays its eggs in other birds' nests and lets those poor saps do all the work of raising their young while they go off and party. You probably know that a more familiar bird, the cuckoo, does the same thing. But you might not be aware that the baby cuckoo doesn't just settle down and join the family: they push the other babies and eggs out of the nest so they get all the foster parents' efforts for themselves.

The honeyguide has a similar charming attitude towards its foster siblings, but a bloodier way to achieve the same end: it's got a hooked beak to murder them with, which you can see in the photo above. According to the authors of the recent paper that prompted all this honeyguide discussion:

Despite being blind and in total darkness, honeyguides attacked host young with sustained biting, grasping and shaking motions. Attack time of 1–5 min was sufficient to cause host death.

You can see the researcher's actual video of this behavior in Ed Yong's post about the paper. I haven't watched it myself. He says the video is "not pleasant, watch at your own risk." And having lately seen what this man can endure on his new blog Nature Wants to Eat You, if he says that about a video, I think I'll pass.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Mainstream media on the bad animal beat

This blog is often a lone voice in the cause of outing cute animals as the hooligans and degenerates that they really are. So it's encouraging to see this story from none other than the Associated Press, which reveals the truth behind a well-publicized "aawwww" moment.

The adorable photo above, of a mama bear giving her cub a ride across a lake on her back, was taken by a retiree who was fishing in New Mexico. It was picked up by TV and the news and no doubt was the occasion of much cooing and exclaiming over the amazing maternal instincts of animals.

But New Mexico wildlife officials have revealed that this bear, identified by an ear tag, has "a rap sheet as long as her arm:"
Bear No. 56 grew up in the Sandia Mountains east of Albuquerque, turning to trouble in 2002. That’s the year she was picked up at least four times for raiding trash cans, chicken coops — and sometimes houses — in the small mountain community of Tijeras.

On her fourth recorded encounter with the law, Bear No. 56 was chased up a tree and tranquilized. After that, officers decided to relocate her to the Zuni Mountains, about 100 miles to the west.

One Rick Winslow, identified as the state's large carnivore wildlife biologist, is quoted as saying that this bear has covered an amazing amount of ground, and that what's even more unusual is that she was never euthanized after four and possibly five episodes of being relocated. The state's normal procedure for bears is "three strikes and you're out," and that means permanently out.

He says this like he had nothing to do with it, but isn't the state's large carnivore wildlife biologist exactly the person who should have been in the loop making these decisions? With all the scientists we've seen making excuses for bad animals, we think it's unfortunate that the AP didn't take a closer look at this official and exactly whose side he is on. Rick Winslow, we'll be keeping an eye on you.

Monday, November 7, 2011

You have not learned your lesson

The pug is practicing to pick the winner of the book giveaway.

Have you entered? If not, why not? OK, it's awfully nice of you if you want to pay money for the book instead. But haven't you learned anything from animals by reading this blog? Why are you not trying to grab stuff when you have a chance!

Or are you such a faithful reader that you think, since you've read every single post in the archives, the book has nothing left to tell you? Well, anyone who's read every single post on this blog should have learned that there are ALWAYS more bad animals. There's a whole chapter about animal substance abuse, and what scientists have discovered about the sex lives and family values of animals... some of it shocks even me.

Post a comment with your contact information, and I'll copy your name onto one of those little pieces of sticky paper in the photo. Or go read the earlier post and participate in the extra challenge, where I get you to help spread the word about bad animals. Tell your friends! You've got till November 14.

We return tomorrow to your regularly scheduled bad animal reporting service.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

More than just your bird feeder is at risk

A couple of squirrels gained some notoriety on both sides of the pond recently.
Last month in St Louis, a squirrel got a huge amount of media coverage for interfering with baseball games - we'll just let a link to the animal's Wikipedia entry stand for all of it, describing its subsequent celebrity in song, on T-shirts and Twitter, etc.

At about the same time, TV viewers in Britain were shocked when they were watching a nice, family-friendly baking contest, and were treated to a clip of some nature footage - which included a a squirrel flasher:

For those who were fortunate enough to miss this offense on the broadcast, it was still hard to avoid, because again the hooligan got all kinds of press.

Squirrels commonly interfere with more important things than entertainment. It was no effort at all to find enough stories of squirrels causing power failures to link every highlighted word in this sentence to a different incident.

And while the magazine cover illustration above may seem extreme, squirrels do attack people. One ran amuck in a town in Vermont earlier this year, and if you read the book, you'll find several cases of them attacking innocent children, sometimes in their own classrooms and playgrounds.

They also cause car accidents when do-gooders swerve to avoid them. In California, the result of one such incident was rather spectacular when the driver hit a fire hydrant instead:

And yet some people even take these animals into their homes. A couple in Cornwall rescued a gray squirrel that had been attacked by a cat and nursed it back to health. They don't seem to realize that this can only end badly, despite the obvious evidence in the animal's addiction to Crunchy Nut Corn Flakes: "If she doesn’t get them she goes berserk and will run around the room jumping on my shoulder until she gets a bowl."

Not all squirrels wait for an invitation into your home, and one man in Sweden found that authorities not only didn't help, they stood in the way of his self-defense. A squirrel repeatedly broke in to his house and trashed the place, but it took two months for local government to decide it would be OK for him to attempt to shoot it - after he also gets permission from the police.

Don't forget that any gray squirrel in Britain is badly behaved almost by definition, since they're an invasive species that's driving the smaller, cuter red squirrel to extinction; grey squirrels now reportedly outnumber the native reds by 70 to one.

But in one part of Britain, they've got the right idea what to do about the invasion of grey squirrels, joining a trend we've seen before: They're eating them.

A company in Cornwall is using them in the filling for Cornish pasties, the traditional local meat pie. The owner points out that squirrel meat is environmentally friendly and, of course, free range: 'At a time when people are looking closely at food miles and ethics, grey squirrel is the ultimate in environmentally sustainable meat.'

But they don't attempt to hide the element of revenge: All profits from the sale of the meat will be donated to the Red Squirrel Survival Trust.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Book giveaway, red in tooth and claw

Used to be, a book publisher was the kind of animal that carefully nurtured and protected each of its precious young. But the modern media ecosystem has forced the industry to evolve. Now a publisher lays a thousand eggs, dumps them in the pond, and gets on with its life, figuring that at least one will escape predators, find enough food, and successfully live to adulthood.

So authors are pretty much on their own to fight for the lives of their creations. But hey, I've learned about looking out for number one from the best: ANIMALS.

Animals will never give you something for nothing. You want a dolphin to jump? You pay it with a fish. You want a rampaging crocodile to stop chasing you? Let it take the slowest member of your group and you've got a deal.

So sure I'm doing a book giveaway, but only if I get something out of it too. Hey, at least I'm sharing. You think that bear would give you any of that stolen pizza?

I'm giving away three copies. One is really something for nothing: it will go to a commenter randomly chosen by that pug in the photo who is totally unimpressed with that box of books. Because, you know, we are humans here, and we do have a little bit of civilization.

But TWO books will go to people who have helped to spread the word by sharing a link to this blog somewhere on the Internet telling thousands of strangers about it.

The winners of those two copies will be chosen by me in whatever capricious manner I deem appropriate, inspired by the cruelty and unfairness of the natural world. It might be the post that gets me the most traffic. It might be the post with the funniest added comment. It might be a post by one of my relatives who is also passing on some of my genes to posterity. I'll do whatever feels good at the time, just like an animal would.

Want to play? You've got till November 14th. Go forth and tell the world about bad animals and put the link in a comment here to prove it. Or if you're too shy for that, just leave a comment, and hope for the best, because we're human, and sometimes we are nice to the weakest member of the pack.

(Either way, make sure you include a way for me to contact you, an email address or a link to someplace where a lazy animal can find one without too much trouble.)

Oh and hey: While you're posting those comments, listen to me talking about the book on the radio program The Animal House.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Bovine bad behavior rewarded by endorsement deal

We saw last time that there's a virtual epidemic of bears breaking into businesses in the United States. On the other side of the pond, a similar trend is emerging, but the problem isn't bears: it's bovines.

In the most recent case, a bull charged into a bar in Ireland, sending patrons fleeing in panic as the animal kicked over bar stools, attacked the pool table, butted holes in the wall and peed on the floor.

Knowledgable observers pointed to an earlier case where a bull got into an Irish supermarket in 2009, so this trend may have been some time in the making.

But as is often the case, what we really need to worry about is our fellow humans and their tendency to enable bad animals.

Elsewhere in Europe, an Austrian shopping center was invaded by a cow called Laura. She chewed up two bras and a T-shirt in the Intersport sporting goods store before guards, improvising with the merchandise, tied her to a dumbell with a jump rope.

The farmer who owns the cow was required to pay for damaged goods, but now, the cow has actually been rewarded for her hooliganism: she's got a TV deal. The store is going to feature her in their advertising, apparently believing that the Austrian people will take shopping advice from a bovine criminal. Explained a spokesman, "Laura had the right idea, for anyone preparing for winter Intersport is the right place to be. We have all your winter needs - skis, helmets and warm winter clothing."

Monday, October 24, 2011

Bears will stop at nothing

This blog has been following the misdeeds of bears since at least 2009 when a bear mugged a New Jersey man in his driveway for his Italian sandwich. We've seen bears breaking into cars, a bear in a hot tub, and one stealing from a back porch freezer, to name a few.

But recently the trend has been ominous: Bears have been boldly strolling right into our homes and businesses. Earlier this month, we saw bears that broke into a pizza place and robbed a home of a birthday cake. And then, if you are a fan of the blog's Facebook page, you saw video of a bear climbing around in the vegetable department in a grocery store. (And if you're not a fan of the blog on Facebook, why not?)

Now, the bear invasion may be threatening one of our most precious national traditions. Hide your Halloween supplies or you may be next: a bear broke into a candy shop in Tennessee. When two employees arrived for work in the morning, they found a scene of devastation:
Candy, wrappers and packaging were strewn throughout the back storeroom. Rock candy was broken in tiny pieces all over the floor and nuts were scattered everywhere. Pecan logs — $15.95 a pound — had been chewed on and hunks were missing out of $3 caramel apples. A whole container of white-chocolate-covered pretzels was demolished, including the plastic packaging they were housed in.

The storeroom's cement floor was still wet and covered in paw prints, from the bear's walk through the morning showers.

Upon further inspection, after rounding one of the candy-making counters, the women noticed a hole in glass of the front door. The bear had also relieved itself in front of the shop's glass display cases.

The pair assumed the bear was gone, but ran out to the safety of their cars to phone their supervisor anyway. Good thinking, because when he arrived, he came face to face with the bear in a storeroom. Fortunately no one was injured, but $500 worth of sweets were lost, and the front door of the shop will need to be replaced.

Don't think you're safe because you're not in the Tennesee mountains. Bears are heading for places where people aren't used to them, like the suburbs of Atlanta - so far those bears have been satisfied with trash and bird feeders, but how long do you think that will last?

And you can't even expect the authorities to be on your side. They'll advise you not to leave food where bears can get at it, and then, like in Albuquerque, they go and take in a skinny bear, feed it up, and release it.

That bear knew what side his bread was buttered on. When Fish and Game officials brought him up into the mountains and opened the door to freedom, one said, "He wasn’t eager to go... he didn’t want to come out of the trap for some reason."

"For some reason." Yeah, now he'll have to break into houses on his own, instead of being served. But they've made sure he'll do a good job of it: "He is now a nearly 200 pound bear," said a staff member at the wildlife rehab center where the bear had been a guest. "And a very feisty bear, aggressive bear. He should do well."

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Not all our fault

Animal lovers feel guilty for the terrible things humans are doing to the planet that are driving other species to the brink of extinction. And while this blog is not necessarily in favor of paving wildlife habitat, spewing pollutants into the atmosphere, dumping trash into the ocean, spilling chemicals in waterways... still, it's only fair to note that some animals really aren't helping.

We've noted this before in the case of pandas, which are so bad at reproducing that keepers have been forced to show them porn and dress up in panda suits in their efforts to keep the species going.

But not all animals are so passive about their slide into nonexistence. Tigers seem to be taking a more active role. Last month at a zoo in Texas, a female Malayan tiger killed her mate. The Malayan tiger is critically endangered, with only an estimated 500 left in the wild, and these two individuals had been brought together at the zoo especially for breeding purposes.

But for at least one of these animals, perpetuating the species apparently took a back seat to relationship problems. Zoo officials were quoted after the attack saying "we never saw this coming." But in fact it came, as Reuters put it, after "months of simmering jealousy in a feline love triangle."

The zoo had two female tigers, who were kept apart because they didn't get along - but took turns keeping company with the male. It seems that this system worked no better than it would with most human relationships, with one staff member quoted as saying "The girls are jealous of each other." Yet apparently it was assumed that neither of the ladies would place any blame on the male for enjoying the other female's company. This vision of tiger open-relationship harmony was proven a delusion when finally, one of them just couldn't take it anymore.

And this wasn't the only recent example of a rare tiger reducing the population of its species by one. At a conservation reserve in South Africa, a male South China tiger broke into the enclosure of a younger male, who killed the intruder. The South China species may be extinct in the wild, and there are only a few dozen in captivity. The reserve is run by a group called Save China's Tigers which is breeding the animals and trying to train them to survive in the wild for reintroduction to their native habitat.

Way to help them save you, tigers. I think I'll be donating my conservation dollars to some nice frogs instead.

Tigers "play fighting," yeah maybe, by Flickr user Martin Heigan.

Monday, October 17, 2011

This is how deer thank you

Are you still dubious about the risk posed by deer, even after reading last week's post about head-butting, doorbell-ringing, home-invading Bambis? Maybe you thought the man with the deer in his workshop was being overly dramatic when he said "I was just defending myself. It was either me or the deer."

Well, perhaps exactly when I was writing that post on Sunday evening, a man in Canada was killed by his own herd of "tame" deer.

The man went out to feed the deer and when he didn't return home, his wife called police, who found him dead among "signs of a struggle so violent" that the body was missing a boot and a sock.

While it's important to note that any large hoofed animal can do considerable damage at any time of year, a police spokesman described the particulars of the situation the victim had faced in graphic detail:

"Adult male deer this time of year have significant antlers and in the wild they are very adept at using them to fend off predators —coyotes, foxes, rabid dogs, what have you."

He said the bucks use their racks to pin their adversary to the ground, then put all their weight on them.

"All their weight is on their neck and they'll grind. Those antlers are sharp and they'll poke skin and muscle tissue very easily."

And apparently the fact that you're bringing them food - and have been feeding them all their lives - doesn't eliminate the risk. So don't let down your guard around those those big brown eyes.

Another deer warning sign, thanks to Flickr user s.yume, this time from Nara, Japan where they let these animals roam freely in the streets. So add that to your list of places not to visit in Japan along with the monkey park in Oita from last time. Maybe you should stick to Tokyo - wait, except for the crow attacks...

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Putting ideas in their heads

If you've been paying attention, you'll know that this blog isn't just about animals that behave badly. It's often about humans who enable their bad behavior. And it doesn't get any worse than this story out of Japan.

What you see in the photo above is a movie screening held at Mt. Takasaki Natural Park in Kanzaki, Oita. (I'm being specific about this so you know exactly where it isn't safe to go if you visit this otherwise lovely, if cute-animal-obsessed, country.) For this event, a special condensed 13-minute version of the film was prepared, no doubt to account for the monkeys' short attention spans. The monkeys were served with special-occasion treats of grapes and bananas, and about 200 people and 400 macaques attended.

These efforts seem merely absurd until you find out exactly what these macaques were watching: It was the new Planet of the Apes movie. You know -- the prequel to the series, the one that shows how the monkeys take over the Earth.

You may poo-poo the notion that this movie will put ideas in these monkeys' heads. Macaques can't learn anything from movies, right? Not so fast. It's been shown, for example, that macaques can learn which are the high-status, dominant monkeys by watching films of them.

And don't forget that these filmgoers aren't just any monkeys. These are are the same macaques that have been known to terrorize and attack innocent civilians, hiding behind their reputation as the adorable "snow monkeys" that take Japanese hot-spring baths and play with snowballs.

You'd think Japan had had enough problems lately, why are they asking for trouble? Or could it be that they're so tired, they're ready to give up and let the monkeys take charge?

Thanks for the tip and translation from the Asahi Shimbun to the Kyoto bureau of Animals Behaving Badly.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Justifiable Bambicide

Sometimes I feel ambivalent about covering animals such as the bears in the last post. Surely nearly everyone knows to be afraid of bears, and there's much higher profile media putting its weight behind bear awareness. But so many are unaware that animals with a cute and cuddly reputation are just as likely to commit violent acts - and they're coming after us.

Take deer. Sure, they take a toll on our gardens, but they're so lovely and graceful and who can resist those cute spotted babies with the big Bambi eyes? Surely the only danger we have to worry about is hitting them with our cars, right?

Well, to start, deer are a threat even when your car isn't moving. In Massachusetts, one walked up to a vehicle and head-butted a man through the open window. “I saw cartilage or what I thought was cartilage -- a bone and blood just gushing all over my face,” he said, and ended up in the hospital for seven stitches and treatment of a broken nose.

But never mind cars: deers are walking right up to people's homes. An Ontario woman is being harassed by deer who ring her doorbell. Modifications to the doorbell button have not thwarted them, and when one morning these hooligans awakened her so early that she came to the door with her cane and cursed at them, the offending doe merely responded by snorting and scratching the ground threateningly.

Her nephew cautioned against confronting them - “Don't you know they could put a hoof right through you?" A wise warning, because not all deer who come to your house are merely pranksters, as a man in Ithaca, New York, learned.

Deer are a common sight on Tom Hartshorn's property, but he was clearly unaware of the risk they present: they'd often slept on his porch, and when his son was five, he was allowed to rub noses with a fawn.

So when he stepped outside and startled a buck that crashed through a window into his workshop, Hartshorn was unprepared for what followed.

"I went in thinking it would be like shooing a rabbit away," he said. "But the next thing I know, I am in the battle of my life."

Hartshorn entered and attempted to steer the eighty pound animal towards the door with a shovel, but it went after him. After a struggle managed to whack the deer on the head, and the blow was apparently fatal.

Frighteningly, this sort of incident is not as rare as you might think. A local expert says that he's called a couple of times a year about deer in buildings on the Cornell campus. He advises that you treat this situation like any other dangerous intruder: Call the police.

Hartshorn will no doubt take that advice next time. He never meant to commit Bambicide, he said, but he had no choice: "I was just defending myself. It was either me or the deer."

Your pets are not safe either - thanks for the warning to Flickr user CGP Grey.