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.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

CSI: BEARS is not enough to protect us

Followers of bad animal news might have taken comfort in the fact that a grizzly in Yellowstone National park recently received the death sentence after DNA evidence linked it to the deaths of two hikers in separate attacks.

But less widely reported stories from across North America suggest that this is no time to become complacent about bears - even if you stay safely away from the wilderness. These animals are coming after us where we live:

-In Florida, the hunt is on for a bear that has been breaking into houses and stealing food. In one recent incident the bear got away with a birthday cake, prompting officials to set up a trap baited with cupcakes. So far, the bruin has not been tempted, perhaps because it's reading the news reports that helpfully warn of plans to euthanize the bear if it's captured.

-In Pennsylvania, Richard Moyer was letting his dog in late at night when a black bear rushed through the door and jumped him. As the two struggled on the living room floor, Moyer's wife tried to break it up, and the bear turned on her and dragged her outside. Eventually their combined counterattacks convinced the bear to retreat. "I know what it's like to be a salmon now," a bandaged-up Moyer joked - but also noted that one scratch had come within an inch of an artery: "If it had hit that, I wouldn't be here to tell the story."

-And in British Columbia, it wasn't a home that was invaded, but an institution almost as dear: a pizza parlor. Staff saw the bear checking out an outside garbage can but were afraid to get near enough to close the door, so it strolled right in and dove into a pie. Employees - as well as twenty spectators taking photos and video - watched as the bear ate four pizzas, reportedly including vegetarian, cheeseburger, and beef with blue cheese. While bears can't post online restaurant reviews, it apparently thought highly of the meal: it tried to come back twice the same night.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Biting the hand that rescues you

Perhaps appropriately for the week that THE BOOK is coming out (tomorrow!), there's so much bad animal news, it's hard to decide what to cover in detail. Just a few examples:

-The Ig Nobel prize that was awarded last week to research showing that a certain type of Australian beetle is happy to have sex with discarded beer bottles instead of female beetles - but only the brown bottles with little bumps on them.

-The coyotes that took over an abandoned house in Southern California.

-The news that escaped pets may be teaching wild parrots to talk, which, although derided by some skeptics, could have frightening implications if true.

But all of these take a back seat to what is clearly most significant recent news for the purposes of this blog. It's an update on one of those heartwarming animal stories that went viral - but that turns out to have a dark side.

By now everyone has heard the tale of Willow, the cat found in Manhattan that turned out to have disappeared five years ago from a home in Colorado. Willow's history was discovered when she was picked up on the street and brought to an animal shelter, where they scanned a microchip that revealed her true identity.

The story was covered in major media outlets across the country, with much wonderment over how a cat could have made the trip of many thousands of miles. There was rather less coverage of the prosaic explanation, that someone on a ski vacation had found the lost cat, assumed she was a stray, and flew her back to his Brooklyn home.

The family was reunited with Willow last week, when they flew to New York to pick up the prodigal pussy and, of course, make the rounds of media outlets. All very charming, till one news conference when Willow decided to make her real feelings known, as reported by the New York Post:
Spotlight-weary Willow the cat bit her 3-year-old owner yesterday as cameras rolled on their happy if painful reunion.

Little Lauren “Lola’’ Squires had barely finished cooing about how she couldn’t wait to get long-lost Willow home to Colorado -- gushing, “I’ll feed her, play with her, take good care of her” -- when the frustrated feline snipped at her hand.

Willow's owners downplayed the bite, saying that the cat was just "stressed out" by all the attention. They're sure she'll fit in when she gets home, where she will meet a strange dog they acquired after she left along with the strange child. Why so confident? They explained, “she’s very dominant . . . we used to say she acted more like a dog.”

We suspect we haven't heard the end of this story.