Thursday, July 28, 2011

Check your stereotypes at the kennel door

No doubt you've already seen the video that's gone viral that shows 15-pound Paco the chihuahua chasing two armed robbers out of a shop in Los Angeles.

This news has elicited the usual surprise and astonishment from people who don't read this blog, and so are unaware of the real nature of cute small dogs. As I have reported before, one study found that the dog breeds mostly likely to show aggression towards people are dachshunds, Jack Russell terriers, and yes, chihuahuas.

And unfortunately, not all chihuahuas use their powers for good. Elsewhere in California, a neighborhood had its mail delivery suspended because of a chihuahua that was frightening the mailman.

By the way, one report revealed that the same home owned another dog who had taken no part in interfering with the postal service. And the breed of that other, well-behaved canine? Pit bull.

(Oh, and that apparently unrelated photo? That's Vegas the German shepherd, who flunked out of police dog training in England because she wouldn't bite and is afraid of children.)

Monday, July 25, 2011

Bad Bird Roundup

-Vacation dangers: In the seaside town of Bridlington, England, seagulls that hang out at fish and chip shops aren't just waiting for partrons to drop a chip on the sidewalk anymore. They're actually attacking and stealing their food. One shop fears being driven out of business due to the cost of replacing the meals of complaning customers.

-Memorable final performance: At the Taronga Zoo in Australia, an eagle at a free-flight performance took a detour and landed on an toddler in the audience, leaving a gash on the boy's head. Understandly unhappy with this bit of improvisation, the zoo has retired the eagle from show business.

-Useless public servants: Some more birds are bad at their jobs in Germany as well, where a program to train vultures to replace dogs for sniffing out dead bodies has been declared a "disaster." Critics of the scheme had earlier pointed out the possibility that the evidence would disappear down the birds' gullets, but it turned out there was no risk of that: The three vultures failed to find any of the test cadavers. One refused to fly at all, waddling like a duck instead, and the other two did nothing but fight. A trainer admitted:
'They don't seem to be able to do anything other than attack each other.... It seems they are rather cowardly birds - they would rather hide in the woods than be out and about in the open.'

Photo of ambitiously-named failed vulture detective Miss Marple from Der Spiegel.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Elephants make half-hearted bid for freedom

I'm having one of those months where it seems like it might be a good idea to run away and join the circus. Some elephants in Germany had the opposite idea, though, when they strolled away from their enclosure at a travelling circus and tried to catch a bus. According to Reuters:

Dunia, a 40-year-old Indian elephant, and her counterpart Daela, a 25-year-old African elephant, were apprehended by police near the western city of Hanover over the weekend nonchalantly munching on tree leaves and looking for all the world as if they were waiting for the bus.

A police spokesman downplayed the seriousness of the situation:

"The two elephants were quite cooperative and peaceful. Everyone was amused."

He sounds unaware of what a close call he had, given how frequently elephants commit violence against humans, both in the wild and in captivity. (Check out Elephant News, where they collect these stories.)

But fortunately, these elephants did not resist the authorities - and their much-vaunted intelligence failed them as far as their escape plan. It must have seemed easy - the bus stop was only a couple hundred feet away from their circus enclosure. But aside from the consideration of whether they'd have actually fit on the bus, the pachyderms made a couple of serious miscalculations. Not only was the police station practically right next door, but also, the bus stop was out of service for the summer.

So they were both badly-behaved and not that bright - or maybe they just didn't try that hard. Why give up the adoration of the crowds - and guaranteed meals and a place to sleep - for the uncertainties of life on the lam? So if you're still in that same dead-end job instead of chasing your dreams, maybe you shouldn't throw stones, huh?

Elephants leading the glamourous life from Circus No Spin Zone.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Summer of Monkey Madness

The last month or so has been prime season for primates running amok. In early June, a pet monkey in Ohio unclipped itself from its leash and ran wild for a couple of hours, attacking and scratching two children before being recaptured. Just a few days later, a rhesus macaque was found to be missing from the Yerkes primate research center in Georgia, and at last report, neighbors are still cowering in their homes in fear of encountering it.

Later in the month, a repeat offender was found to be still on the run: the near-legendary Tampa Bay monkey was caught on video, proving a local's claim that the monkey is still out there and regularly visits his yard.

Monkey trouble has not been confined to North America. Also in June, Cambodian officials finally had to draw the line at a temple where the hooliganish behavior of a couple of hundred monkeys is usually tolerated. After a series of visitors were bitten, the worst of the "gangster" monkeys are being tranquilized and rounded up - this is after attempts to trap them using eggs laced with sleeping pills failed to fool the canny primates.

The most disturbing story of the pack, though, comes from India. In New Delhi, monkeys have learned how to work the new automatic doors at a hospital, and can now stroll in at will. If you think a monkey would be a nice diversion at visiting hours, think again:

They have terrorised patients, stealing food, playing with medical equipment, and attacking staff.

Worse, due to local cultural sensitivities, measures to deal with the problem are severely restricted:

Killing or trapping the monkeys was not an option, due to their association with the Hindu deity Hanuman... Authorities have taken steps to scare off the monkeys. They have hired two larger monkeys to chase them away.

That's right: their only recourse is to rely on other monkeys. Wish them luck.

Cartoon look inside the primate mind from Bizarro Comics thanks to Genius Chimp.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Ominous trends in bad animal behavior

-Last week we learned of some unexpected animals interfering with air travel when turtles blocked a runway at Kennedy airport in New York. At least those animals were in their native country.

Imagine the surprise of having your flight delayed in Manchester, England by a pink flamingo. It took five hours to capture the culprit, and the most disturbing aspect of this case is that the origin of the bird is a mystery: all the local wildlife sanctuaries denied having lost a flamingo.

-Remember the scientists who discovered that crows can remember the faces of individual people that have done unpleasant things to them? Maybe you reassured yourself that crows aren't that common in your neighborhood.

Well, other scientists now report that the same is true of pigeons tested in a city park in Paris. The pigeons in this study learned to stay away from people who had chased them. But can we be sure that staying away will be their only strategy?

-Recently this blog reported on some British cows who had learned to let themselves out of their barn. At least they stayed on the property. In Wales, a herd escaped into a residential neighborhood and reportedly trampled gardens, ate flowers, and, most disturbingly, peered into people's windows.

You can see from the photo above that this was not the sort of rural lane where people expect to share their space with livestock. As one resident said, "We are used to having pints of milk delivered to our doorstep but not the whole cow."

Monday, July 11, 2011

Read it for the sake of the children

The newspaper of our nation's capitol, the Washington Post, has a lot to answer for. They never pass up an opportunity to give cute animals more good publicity, in the particular form of the pandas at the National Zoo. They waste valuable space on these inert fluffy bamboo-eaters even when there is no news at all. It boggles the mind that in a city crowded with the powerful and with world-changing events, the headline "Panda pregnancy? No one knows" passes muster.

So it's with particular pleasure that I direct you to a hard-hitting piece of investigative journalism in the pages of the Post this past weekend. This is not only a case of exposing bad animal behavior, but of tearing down one of those dangerous illusions propagated by children's literature.

If you remember the book Misty of Chincoteague with nostalgia, if like many you've dreamed of someday visiting the wild ponies of Assateague Island, you'll want to read this article, which begins:
ASSATEAGUE ISLAND NATIONAL SEASHORE, Md. — They scarf potato chips and whole bags of marshmallows late in the night, leaving behind trashed campsites and ruined tents. They break into stranger’s coolers and make off with watermelons. They carelessly turn on water spigots and leave them running.

Rangers are dealing with a problem that has all the hallmarks of a classic beach-week bender, but the culprits aren’t rowdy teens. They’re Assateague Island’s famous wild horses.

Apparently the ponies have been pestering visitors for years, requiring a volunteer patrol to shoo them off the roads. But lately the situation has crossed the line. One stallion even had to be removed from the park after injuring a visitor.

Of course, foolish humans who don't read this blog are a big part of the problem. New signs have been posted - “Horses, Bite, Kick & Charge/KEEP AT LEAST 10 FEET AWAY” - and a fine of one hundred dollars instituted for violators. But many visitors don't get it - park officials have seen parents putting their children on the back of a pony for a snapshot.

Humans don't bear all the blame, though. These creatures are so bold that you could easily find yourself within ten feet of a pony through no fault of your own - and end up like the woman in the photo above who was knocked to the ground despite attempting to make a quick retreat. And these icons of children's literature have started stooping to the lowest of tricks:
The horses beg. They pester. They even run a hustle that wouldn’t be out of place on a D.C. street corner.

“I didn’t believe it until I saw it,” Kicklighter said. “Two horses put their youngest, cutest pony in front of a car, and then the older horses went around to the windows to panhandle for food.”

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Baboon on the Loose

I apologize profusely to my readers in New Jersey that I missed this story when you needed to be warned about it: A baboon was on the loose in southern New Jersey for a few days last week.

Officials downplayed the risk to citizens, one being quoted as saying that baboons are 'typically not aggressive toward people.'

Obviously that's yet another uninformed source who doesn't read this blog and has missed the ongoing saga of south African baboons that break into houses and cars to threaten humans and steal whatever they want, including at least one who went far enough to warrant the death penalty.

Fortunately, some who encountered the animal were more sensible about the danger, including one eyewitness who said: "I saw the red hiney and I knew it was a baboon - instant panic!"

And the fugitive was eventually captured on a horse farm, whose employees did their civic duty, but without any risky heroics. They called the cops, and as one said, "I just took a bale of hay and kept it between the baboon and me," keeping himself safe till someone arrived with a tranquilizer gun.

It's assumed that the animal came from a group at the nearby Six Flags theme park. But he was too young to have been microchipped to verify his identity. And the park is adding security, but say they can't figure out how the animal escaped. So perhaps the locals better continue to watch their backs.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Another installment of Animals vs Infrastructure

I'm not a conspiracy theorist. But I'm disturbed by the new ways animals are coming up with to interfere with the technological underpinnings of human society. Climbing animals like raccoons causing power failures is nothing new, but in mid-June in Montana, an eagle caused an electrical outage by dropping a dead fawn on a power line. And other animals are going right to the source, like the jellyfish that caused a nuclear power plant to be shut down in Scotland by clogging up the pipes drawing water into the facility.

Similarly, it's well known that birds can be a danger to airplanes by getting sucked into engines and striking aircraft. Since they basically share the same habitat, this isn't surprising. But you probably had no idea that if you've got a flight at Kennedy airport in New York right about now, you might be delayed because of turtles.

Last week it happened again as it does every year, when diamondback terrapins migrate to their breeding grounds, and don't care that the direct route goes right over a runway.The airport had no choice but to close the runway. "Running over turtles is not healthy for them nor is it good for our tires," said one spokesperson.

Rather than fighting this yearly incursion, airport officials seems resigned to their fate. Workers from the Port Authority and the U.S. Department of Agriculture gathered up the turtles and gave them free transportation to their destination in order to speed the migration along. And everyone seems to have a light-hearted attitude about the situation. JetBlue, one of the affected carriers, said in a statement, "We hope for faster animals next time."

Very funny. But if turtles can interfere with airplanes, is anything safe?