Thursday, January 31, 2013

Whose side are you on?

Over the centuries people have pondered what separates us from the animals, and one after another the theories have fallen. We're not the only animal that uses tools, some say there are animals that have a form of language, and so on.

But here's the real difference: When one species is up against another, an animal will always take the side of its own kind. Not humans.

Take the case lately of a British man who was attacked by an owl:
A man was left was left lying in a pool of his own blood after his head was ripped open by an eagle owl.
John MacKay, 58, of North Kessock, Inverness-shire, was walking into a masonic club when he suddenly woke up on the floor with a "fountain" of blood pouring from his skull.
Sitting on a nearby van was a two-foot high eagle owl glaring down at him.
"It was as if I had been hit by a brick or something as it had ripped my head open and the blood was everywhere - it had erupted like a fountain."
Mr MacKay was able to crawl into the club to get help and staff immediately dialled an ambulance to pick him up.
Seems pretty clear who needs our concern here, but when a reporter consults an alleged expert who works with birds of prey, here's what he says:
"For me the welfare of the bird is important now, so I'm keen to find it."
 Or take the incident in Florida where some pet lemurs got loose and scratched a two-year-old. What did the neighbors say?
"There's nothing wrong with the monkeys, they're very peaceful, we feed them and everything," said neighbor Carlos Lezcano. "Like any other animals around, we got raccoons, we got cats, we got every kind of animals around here, which is beautiful."
But some go beyond making excuses. Some who ought to know better are actually giving animals sophisticated tools.  At the National Zoo, orangutans now have iPads. Sure, right now they're mostly playing virtual instruments, and one "enjoys watching animated fish swim in a virtual koi pond on the screen." But knowing what damage can be done by the use of computers, should we really trust them to stop at that?

Monday, January 28, 2013

Beware of elk

The mainstream media gets it right again in this Associated Press story about the elk problem at the Grand Canyon. Some highlights:
Elk, once a rare sight at the national park, now regularly jam up the park's roads, graze on hotel lawns and aren't too shy about displaying their power, provoked or not. They've broken bones and caused eye injuries in the most serious circumstances, and give chase to the unsuspecting.
Roads and campsites become clogged with elk and cars, through the animals' stubborn nature or camera-toting tourists marveling at them. A volunteer crew responded to 115 "elk jams" over 53 days last year, taking anywhere from one minute to 2 hours to clear up.
Kim Crumbo was jogging at the Grand Canyon in 2006 when he saw a bull elk rubbing its antlers against a tree. He said he screamed "like a banshee" when it knocked him over, breaking his leg in three places.
But the saddest part? It's all our own fault:
Elk brought in by train from Yellowstone National Park helped re-establish the Arizona populations after the state's native elk became extinct around 1900.
When will we learn?

Fearless elk eating hotel shrubbery by Flickr user atrphoto.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Spider vs. ME

There are any number of bad animals I should be catching up with today. But pigeons stopping mail delivery with their poop and yet another attack turkey are simply going to have to stand aside in favor of a creature attacking one of the things I hold most dear: Japanese vending machines.

The photo above is a scene that looks remarkable to an American - that fact is demonstrated by how many of them take such photos - but it is an utterly typical Tokyo streetcorner. The country is a paradise of interesting drinks, in reasonable portions, available without even going into a store.

And now this convenient, simple pleasure is under attack:

Man hospitalized after being bitten by redback spider hiding in vending machine

According to the public health department at the Fukuoka Municipal Government, at about 12:30 p.m. on Jan. 21, the man bought a canned coffee from a vending machine near a parking lot in Maizuru Park. When he pulled his hand from a slot of the vending machine, the spider crawled up through his right sleeve and bit his forearm, it said. About two hours later he called for an ambulance because he started to feel acute pain and nausea.
Yes, statistically it's true that vending machines themselves are more dangerous than animals. You're far more likely to be killed by an accident with a vending machine than by a shark.

But if we can't get a can of iced coffee from a Japanese vending machine without fear of spider attack, now I truly don't know what the world is coming to.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Hail to the Chick

Today we've actually got an Inauguration Day bad animal, courtesy of the Smithsonian, where in 1973, a chicken disrupted a Nixon inaugural ball.

Perhaps unwisely, they'd decided to hold the event in what was then called the Museum of History and Technology, where there were live chickens "to give a sense of realism to the American farm life exhibit."

Unfortunately for the dignity of the event, when it comes to animals, realism is nothing but trouble:
While guests danced the night away, a female participant became quite ruffled when a chicken flew into her one thousand dollar VIP box and began to assault her. 
The guest "objected she was being molested," according to the photo caption here. Fortunately the secretary of the Smithsonian at the time, S. Dillon Ripley, was an ornithologist. Even more fortunately, he wasn't one of those animal experts we often see on this blog, who make excuses instead of standing up for his own species. He captured and subdued the bird and returned it to captivity.

A good save, but whatever your political leanings, I think we can all join together in hope that today's event is unmolested by birds.


Thursday, January 17, 2013

Support from the mainstream media

Again and again this blog has demonstrated that the only thing less trustworthy than an animal is one of those alleged animal "experts". If you don't believe me, maybe you'll believe the world's largest news organization:
JOHANNESBURG (AP) — When do you not listen to the African wildlife expert? When he tells you to stand closer to the rhino.
That suggestion by a South African game park owner resulted in serious injuries to a 24-year-old woman from Johannesburg.
The Beeld newspaper reported Tuesday that Chantal Beyer said the game park owner snapped pictures and suggested that she "stand just a little bit closer" seconds before the attack. Photos show Beyer and her husband only feet away from two rhinos.
The paper said that just after the photo was snapped, the rhino attacked, and its horn penetrated Beyers' chest from behind, resulting in a collapsed lung and broken ribs, the paper said. The Aloe Ridge Hotel and Nature Reserve, where the incident took place, declined to comment Tuesday.
And here is the saddest part: if you trust Google Translate, Volksblad reports that "some of the people said they would rather prefer to stay in the vehicle, but Richter told them it's perfectly safe." 

People: trust your instincts. These are individuals who have chosen to spend their whole lives with animals. Don't assume that they have a particle of common sense - or that they're on your side.

Photo of sign missing the most important caveat from Volksblad.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Everything old is new again

The return of two sorts of bad animal behavior we haven't seen in quite some time:

-In 2010, we covered the story of a pheasant attacking people in a town in England, going after grandmothers and strollers and even lying in wait for children getting off the school bus. Things have been quiet in the pheasant department since then, but now there's a report of another attack pheasant in Yorkshire. This one's rath is more single-minded: he's got it in for the mailman:
Once Mr Hutchinson has pulled up in the village, the angry bird chases him between post boxes and jumps up and attacks him. It even has a go at his van, chasing after it to peck at the tyres.
The weary postman said: “As soon as I arrive around this area it will follow me to the post box and I shall then move down to my next call and it will chase the van, pecking the tyres, then maybe it will wait for me and follow me to the letter box.”
The linked article also provides an interesting update on the previous case:
He eventually curbed his aggressive behaviour after taking up with two female pheasants.
 You'd think this points to an obvious solution, but no one seems to have noticed: the only suggestion has been to give in to the terrorism:
In an offer of help, a spokesman said: “I think what we might do is contact the post man and let him deliver to the village’s post to the hotel and the locals could pick up their post from there."
-In 2009, in a story that I somehow neglected to blog about, and that got edited out of the book, a dog ruined a teenager's school trip to Peru by eating his passport:
Officials at Chicago's O'Hare airport told 17-year-old Jon Meier the chewed-on document was fine, but authorities in Miami rejected it and wouldn't let him board the southbound aircraft.

His family's 1-year-old golden retriever, Sunshine, chewed a corner of the document, obscuring some numbers. Meier couldn't get another passport in time to join the trip with his Spanish class from Eau Claire North High School. 
I'm finally getting a chance to mention this because it's happened to someone again. Presented without comment because they're falling all over themselves to make the obvious jokes already:
A Welsh rugby star has had to pull out of an important match in France after his puppy chewed up his passport.
Jason Tovey, 23, was all packed and ready to go to the airport to fly to Toulon to play for Cardiff Blues when he found his ruined passport.
He said he was dreading telling his coach that he could not play in the Heineken Cup game on Saturday.
"It's a bit like the old schoolboy excuse that the dog ate my homework," he added.
The outside half's Labrador puppy Buster had even left his teeth marks on the passport, which now has gaping holes in it.
"I was dreading telling my team coach, I didn't think anyone would believe."
A Cardiff Blues spokesman said: "Jason rang to say what happened - he's in the doghouse."

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Bad News Briefs

-Where does she think she lives? Mother's worst nightmare as snake wraps around baby:
A LISMORE mother had the fright of her life when she woke up in the early hours of Saturday to find a python wrapped around her young daughter's arm.
"The third time it really bit her deep, so I grabbed the snake's head and grabbed Zara and tried to pull them apart. It was really hard, the snake was very strong. I could not believe a snake was biting my daughter.
"This is something you hear about happening overseas, but not here."
"Not here"? This woman lives in Australia, where practically everything is always trying to kill you, even the cute wombats.

-Some thanks: Police officers hospitalised after saving feisty cat from busy road.
 Two police officers who tried to rescue a feisty feline from a busy road in Melbourne, Australia, on Wednesday morning, were badly bitten and scratched by the "savage" cat.
Oh, by the way, where? Australia.

-It's not all our fault: China's Program to re-introduce Pandas to the Wild Proving Difficult: 
The program to re-introduce captive pandas to the wild came to a halt after the death of the male panda, ‘Xiang Xiang’, or ‘Lucky’, which was released into the wild in 2006. Xiang Xiang died a year later after apparently being attacked by wild pandas.
-And finally:  Norfolk 911 calls for 'baby lion' turn up a coiffed dog
The 911 caller reported that the baby lion was walking down Colley Avenue, possibly looking for food, near 50th Street. So police called the Virginia Zoo around 10:15 a.m. to make sure the lions were all accounted for, said Winfield Danielson, a zoo spokesman.
Mramba, the male lion, and Zola, the female, were in their habitats.
As it turns out, it was Charles the Monarch that was out and about.
Neighborhood regulars know Charles, who hangs out with his owner at Daniel Painter's business, Daniel's Lawn & Garden Center, on Colley Avenue.
Charles is a cross of Labrador retriever and poodle shaved to look like the mascot of Old Dominion University.

Painter said police have told him several times that his dog has been mistaken for a lion. He said he's taken his dog from his Riverview home to Lafayette Park near the zoo and seen people run to their cars in shock.
"I tell people he's a Lab-a-lion, and half the people believe that."
Now, I grant that taking advantage of people's ignorance like this is somewhat amusing, but if you are looking at your own dog and getting ideas, people: the folks who leave life-sized stuffed animals lying around are bad enough. Let's not compound the problem, OK?

Monday, January 7, 2013

Maybe it's a trend

I don't know about you, but right now, I could use a bunch more stories about people standing up to bad animals:

Man fined for allowing dogs to bark 863 times in 23 minutes.   They've only been on notice since 2007, so it's about time.

Kentucky has a new law banning releasing hogs into the wild. The columnist quoted here thinks this is pretty funny, so obviously doesn't read this blog.

A town in Kansas has a new law banning people from owning more than four cats. They're just trying to save you from yourselves, people.

Cat arrested for break-in a Brazilian prison. The confiscated items taped to the cat's body included drill bits, files, and a mobile phone.
A prison spokesman said "It's tough to find out who's responsible for the action as the cat doesn't speak." Well, sure it had a co-conspirator, since cats can't use tape. But remember no one can make a cat do anything, so let's not talk like this feline is an innocent tool.

Buy that illustration on a t-shirt by Lisann, but only if you mean it as a warning.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Good news/bad news

News is mixed, but promising, for a continuing trend of people standing up to bad animals this year:

-Good news: At Everglades National Park in Florida, a possible breakthrough in the battle against vandalizing vultures. For the past few years the birds have been virtually disassembling parked cars, as one visitor experienced recently when returning from touring the park:
Vulture dung covered the hood of his GMC Yukon. Worse, just about every piece of rubber and plastic on his sunroof, windows and hood was ripped away and shredded. The insurance company paid $1,850 for the damage, he said — and that was before he discovered the birds had also apparently yanked out the seals on the bottom of the doors as well. “It took the guys from the insurance agency 10 or 15 minutes to even figure out how to code it.”
Efforts to scare the birds away have proved fruitless, but now they've come up with a simple solution. The park is offering to loan visitors an "Anti-Vulture Kit" consisting of a tarp with bungee cords to cover your car. This is an admirable twofer: standing up to animal misbehavior, and proving that doing so doesn't take rocket science.

-Bad news: In one of the worst examples to date of a human being enabling a bad animal, a trainer in Ukraine has taught a dolphin to walk on dry land:

Regular readers of this blog are well-informed about how dangerous dolphins are. But up till now, we could rest easy in the knowledge that the only people at risk are those who deliberately place themselves in harm's way. As I quote in the book:
Dolphin expert Karen Pryor has observed, “the sentimental view that these animals are harmless stems at least in part from the fact that they are usually in the water and we are usually on boats or dry land: they can’t get at us.”
As an animal trainer myself, I can appreciate that the training challenge might have seemed interesting, but people, this is the last thing we need dolphins to be able to do!

-Good-ish news: Elsewhere, people are being stupid about dolphins, but at least the experts are on the side of the humans for a change. In Australia, another dolphin is following in the flipper-steps of the famous Moko and getting way too intimate with swimmers:
A dolphin living in St George's Basin, near Jervis Bay, has come into regular contact with humans during the warmer summer months.
A spokeswoman for marine mammal rescue group ORCCA, Janine Davies, says people are getting too close and treating the animal like a domestic pet.
"Unfortunately there are some people that are not abiding the regulations and are trying to feed the animal with ham sandwiches," she said.
"There was an incident yesterday where some parents had children with the dolphin and the children were trying to poke their fingers down its blowhole".
Impressively, the warning is being stated in no uncertain terms:
"There is documented evidence where they will become hostile, and they could severely injury someone - or in fact overseas they have been known to actually kill a human," she said.
Recalling that Moko came to a bad end, let's hope that people heed this warning before anyone - of any species - gets hurt.

Sign photographed by Flickr user afagen.