Monday, January 31, 2011

Marsupials interfere with cherished tradition

For 125 years there's been a race on Australia Day on the track at picturesque Hanging Rock. This year a crowd of around five thousand had gathered to watch the Hanging Rock Cup, one of only two races run on the site each year.

But the crowd was not made up only of humans, and that's where the trouble started.

"Country race meetings, kangaroos, barbecues - that's what Australians are all about, isn't it?" Hanging Rock Racing Club manager Mark Graham told a reporter. And, he said, the roos usually stay behind the fence after being "encouraged out" by the staff.

But this year, "encouragment" wasn't enough to keep the mob in its place. Despite the construction of a higher fence last year to prevent just this problem, six roos cleared it and took over the track.

"We tried to gently usher them out but they just kept coming back. They're so friendly with humans that they wanted to mingle," Graham said, making it entirely unclear whose side he is actually on.

The invasion forced the cancellation of the race, although one kangaroo gave an idea of what it apparently thinks is a more appropriate sporting event for Australian spectators:

One kangaroo wowed the crowd with a dash down the home straight.

"This kangaroo hopped right down the straight from about the 350 mark, past the winning post," Mr Graham said.

The crowd is reported to have cheered, a huge mistake in the opinion of this blog. Do you really want to encourage them?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Close call

Back in the fall we reported the heroic capture of a monkey that had been terrorizing residents of a city in Japan and was believed to be responsible for attacks on over 100 people. The city had set up a team of over 150 volunteers, city staff, police and rescue workers to go after it, but the eventual capture was a result of the quick thinking of some average people:

Municipal government officials said the monkey was spotted on the second-floor balcony of the home of 33-year-old resident Yuki Yoneyama at about 12:30 p.m. on Sunday. His 36-year-old wife opened the window to their children's room, and when the money went inside, Yoneyama shut it from the outside, trapping the animal.

The monkey was given the name Lucky, and she certainly was: rather than being punished, she was given accomodations at the local zoo. And rather than being resented, she became a local favorite, appearing in a TV commercial and having her own Twitter account.

But clearly Lucky doesn't appreciate how lucky she's got it. She was just biding her time, and on Monday, she took advantage of an inattentive zookeeper who left a cage door open and made a break for it.

Officials instructed citizens to assume that Lucky was armed and dangerous and to keep their doors locked, but fortunately, she never made it off the zoo grounds, and was recaptured 24 hours later.

Let's hope that keepers are no longer lulled into a false sense of security by this criminal's popularity, and treat her like the dangerous prisoner she is from this point onward.

Mug shot of the culprit and cartoon from The Japan Times.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Small but deadly

Regular readers of this blog understand that people who believe dogs are our species' best friend are just not paying attention. You also know better than to let down your guard just because an animal is small and cute.

But perhaps I've been remiss in not pointing out how critical it is to bring those two observations together.

The dangers of small, cute dogs have in fact been scientifically proven. One careful study of canine aggression found that the breeds with the highest percentage of bad behavior toward people were Dachshunds, Chihuahuas and Jack Russell Terriers.

But you need to watch out for other adorable little breeds as well. In England, a family has been threatened with eviction unless they get rid of their dog that's been attacking the mailman, causing delivery to the whole street to be suspended. Is their pet a big muscular Rottweiler or one of those pit bulls with the mythical "locking jaw"?

No: it's a six inch tall Yorkie called Peggy.

And in an even more high-profile case, media personality Martha Stewart was taken to the emergency room to have a gash on her lip sewn up after she was head-butted by one of her adorable French Bulldogs, Francesca.

Of course the PR spin calls it an accident. But after investigation into both Martha and her pet's blogs, our friends over at The Dog Blog on Dogster cast doubt on this explanation:

Earlier this week Francesca wrote about how excited she and Sharkey were about Martha finally coming home from a big trip to Columbia and Florida. “Finally, she’s coming home and told us that she is craving a homemade vegetable soup. We, Frenchies, thought it would be nice if that soup was ready and waiting for her, so we got busy.” Francesca proceeded to show, via photos, how she and Sharkey found all the veggies growing in Martha’s greenhouse-like area. They worked hard, and were proud of their efforts to please Martha.

Next thing you know, Martha is back home (woo hoo!). But according to Martha’s blog, she only had time to unpack, sort her stuff, and play with the dogs before taking off again within hours to beat a snowstorm so she be in NYC for an early appearance on the Today Show and then go off to her own show. So when the “accident” happened, Martha hadn’t even spent one night home after her long trip.

Now Martha will be spending many nights at home. Frenchies are known for their intelligence.

You do the math.

That's Francesca in the photo above. The caption says she loves the jacket. Look at her expression and judge for yourself whethere there might be more than one reason for lingering resentment in this relationship.

(Photo from Stewart's website, where you can also see a slideshow of her cut lip and trip to the doctor, if you're into that sort of thing.)

Thursday, January 20, 2011

I can't do this alone

Sometimes this blog feels so lost and alone, trying to stand up to the tide of bad animal behavior all by itself. Like when I click on Zooborns - yes, of course I read Zooborns, I have to know the enemy, right? - and I see the photo above of a baby L'Hoest's monkey.

Where is Fuck You, Penguin at a time like this? Someone needs to tell this cute monkey what's what. Someone needs to call this monkey out for making those eyes at us, blinding us with adorableless to the truth about our fellow primates. You know, the truth about how they steal, assault, and lie, and, oh, just read ALL the posts here. Read them! Don't believe those baby monkey eyes!

Monday, January 17, 2011

News briefs from 'round the world

-Taiwan: A man is bringing suit over being insulted by a bird. His neighbors have a pet mynah, which, like a parrot, can be trained to speak. He claims that in retaliation for a previous conflict, they've taught their bird to call him a "clueless big-mouthed idiot:"
He alleges the bird’s harsh words caused him serious distress, and claims he suffered burn injuries after the bird made him lose concentration at work.

His neighbors deny the claim, and why not? Maybe it's the bird's own opinion.

-Britain: A police surveillance helicopter detected a hot spot in a West Yorkshire home. This is usually the sign of equipment for large-scale indoor marijuana production, so they got a search warrant and raided the home.

The surprised homeowner led them to the culprits: two guinea pigs cuddled up in front of a space heater.

-Belarus: It's actually relatively common for dogs to shoot their owners with guns. (See here and here, for example). Now other canines have taken their lead. A hunter shot a fox and then tried to finish it off by hitting it with the butt of his rifle. The fox retaliated by shooting him with his own gun:

‘The animal fiercely resisted and in the struggle accidentally pulled the trigger with its paw,’ said a police officer called to the scene.

"Accidentally," sure. The fox escaped. The hunter was taken to the hospital, where, out of embarrassment, he requested that reporters not print his name.

Pig in a blanket by Flickr user [diego].

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Dead drunk

Ever since 3,000 blackbirds fell out of the sky dead in Arkansas on New Year's Eve, there's been talk of a mysterious "aflockalypse."

Suddenly everyone's noticing mass animal deaths: fish in the Chesapeake Bay, crabs in Britain, starlings and other birds in Louisiana and Kentucky, and more all over the world.

Is it the end of the world? No, say spoilsport scientists, these things happen all the time. The US Geological Survey tracks them in the United States,and collects an average of 163 reports every year, according to the Associated Press.

The reasons behind these mass die-offs vary: sometimes pollution, sometimes disease, sometimes extreme conditions, sometimes even foul play, like the 80 bats in Tucson who were shot to death in December.

And sometimes the reason is bad behavior. Authorities in Romania were concerned that dozens of starlings had died of avian flu. But necropsies revealed that the birds had died because of alcohol poisoning after eating fermented grape residue. Yes: they drank themselves to death. This time, they've got no one to blame but themselves.

Drinking bird by Flickr user Seven Morris.

Monday, January 10, 2011

They're at it again

The Middle East is full of animal espionage. Iranians caught 14 spying squirrels in 2007, and then, spying pigeons in 2008.

Now, authorities in Saudi Arabia have detained a vulture on suspicion of being an Israeli agent.

The vulture was wearing a GPS transmitter labelled as belonging to Tel Aviv University, so what other explanation could there be, right?

Israeli authorities claim that the transmitter is simply part of a conservation project. But the pigeons that spied on Iran aren't the only birds who've done international undercover work: Pigeons were used to deliver messages during the two World Wars, and were even awarded medals. And showing that they're not picky about who they work for, more recently, pigeons smuggled cellphones into a prison in Brazil.

And it's not just birds and small land-based furry things. When sharks attacked tourists in the Red Sea last year, an Egyptian official suggested it was an Israeli intelligence plot to disrupt tourism in his country. Many thought it was ridiculous to imagine ocean wildlife being used in espionage. But did you know that the US Navy has a Marine Mammal Training Program? Sure, they're supposedly just used for protection and mine detection and that sort of thing. But that's what they'd tell us, right?

So let's hope the vulture receives a fair trial, but without speciesism: as readers of this blog well know, just being an animal is the last thing that should be enough to get it off the hook.

Vultures suspiciously interested in our communications technology by Flickr user Starwatcher307.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Turning the tables on a bad animal

As we've seen on this blog again and again, some people never learn. Macaques cause havoc wherever they live - just to name a few, we've seen it in South Africa, in Singapore, in Japan, and even in places in India where they are considered gods.

And still, a town in Thailand persists with a traditional yearly festival that provides a huge monkey buffet.

But one organization that's concerned about invasive species has an idea to turn the tables on bad animal behavior.

Accoding to REEF, the Red Lionfish is the first non-native marine fish to successfully invade Atlantic waters. They're thriving in the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, and the East Coast of the United States, where they reproduce year-round, and have no predators.

But REEF says there's a simple solution to the latter problem:

"It's absolutely good eating -- a delicacy. It's delicately flavored white meat, very buttery," Lad Akins, director of special projects for Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF), told Reuters.

The lionfish has got nasty, venomous spines, but once they're removed (or cooked, if you like to live on the edge), it's perfectly safe to eat.

And if you're not sure of the best way to prepare it, REEF is not going let you get away with that excuse: they've just released The Lionfish Cookbook. Do your part by buying your copy here.



Monday, January 3, 2011

No laughing matter

The British make life much too easy for their bad cats. A couple of weeks ago we saw that instead of getting the feline obesity problem under control, they now have special cat doors for fat cats.

And there's one type of bad behavior that's much easier in Britain than it is in the US: making false reports to the police. We've seen a canine culprit before, but now a cat has done it too. It's an simple prank there because the emergency number is 999, something even an illiterate creature can pull off:

Retired lecturer Howard Moss was woken by police officers in the early hours of the morning demanding to know why he had contacted them.

In bleary-eyed embarrassment he assured the officers that he was alone in his house in Brynmill, Swansea, South Wales, and had certainly not made the call.

'The police insisted that it was not a spook call because it had originated from inside the house,' the 64-year-old said today.

Then one of them noticed Ginger the cat sitting on the phone and he twigged right away. He said "The cat's done it", it was the only possibility.'

He said his 12-year-old pet had recently taken to sprawling over a small downstairs telephone table in the evenings.

'Ginger had somehow managed to ease off the receiver and by a bit of a miracle one of his paws had pushed the 9 button on the large keypad three times.

'Obviously, he couldn't leave a message but when the police got no answer they treated the call seriously.'

Unfortunately, this attitude faded quickly, and all involved failed to take the implications seriously:
He added: 'When the police realised what had happened they were quite amused. I asked them if they had ever had a call-out like that before and they shook their heads.... The more I think about it, the funnier it seems.'

It's obviously far too simple for British felines to both embarass their owners and tie up crucial public safety resources. If they were to coordinate their efforts, and distract a large number of officers at once - Instead of laughing, shouldn't we be worried about what they might be planning?

Cat up to no good by Flickr user cbowns.