Thursday, February 28, 2013

Bad Animal Traditions

A selection of recent efforts in traditional types of bad animal behavior:

-In Florida, a dog shot his owner, and as usual, the police obviously have not read this blog or the book I helpfully wrote with the subtitle "Cheating Chimps, Dogs with Guns, and Other Beastly True Tales:"
He was traveling in his truck when his dog kicked a gun on the truck's floor, resulting in him being shot in the leg, according to a report.
Sebring Police Cmdr. Steve Carr said police did not arrest the dog or detain the animal, pending the investigation. He said he has never heard of a case like this.
-We've seen numerous reports of the marauding baboons of South Africa that break into cars and even people's homes. Now the same thing is happening in Saudi Arabia:
They typically arrive before dawn, in groups of 10 to 20 baboons. First, they raid crops in the fields around the village, then they tear open the trash bags and even try to break into houses to steal food. Last week, they caused a panic at a girls’ school they attacked early in the morning. They managed to steal cookies in the backpacks of the students.
My neighbor recently had half of his grape crop destroyed. He set up scarecrows to frighten the baboons off, to no avail.
A dozen years ago, these monkeys never dared to enter into cities because they were too afraid of humans. But along the roads and in small towns, people have gotten into the habit of feeding them. This practice encouraged monkeys to venture into inhabited areas. We haven’t gotten much help from the authorities to deal with this problem.
-A herd of deer followed in the grand tradition of animals crashing into places of business, invading a shopping center in Indiana:
“All of a sudden we just hear a lot of really loud noises and we looked outside and there was like at least 10 deer just running up and down the strip,” Katie Hall, hairstylist in the plaza, says.
Hall wasn’t laughing as she watched shoppers run, seeking refuge in her hair salon.
“It was crazy. They were running into all the windows and they were up against our door. And they went over to Fashion Bug, they busted that window,” Hall says.
A third deer made its way through a Dollar Tree, scaring an employee.
“She was crying her eyes out and she said they-it busted down about 10 shelves. It was just going crazy,” Hall says.
Some who ought to know better thought this was a laughing matter:
Harrison County firefighters stayed busy, cleaning up and scraping away broken glass. However, most of their work went into cracking joke about the herd of deer that wreaked havoc on a store where everything’s a dollar.
“Gotta new name for the store: ‘Everything’s a Buck,’” one of the firefighters says.

Photo of baboons lurking outside a Saudi Arabian school, read more about it at the link and tell us about it if you can read Arabic.

Monday, February 25, 2013

New frontiers in Animals vs Infrastructure

It's so common for animals to cause power failures that most of the time it's hardly news worth posting. But an animal in Tampa has taken this to new heights by picking its target well: it took out the city's entire water system. At the height of the outage, more than 560,000 people were being told to boil their water before using it.

An official of a national water system trade association said this was the largest outage ever as far as he knew. We may never know exactly who is to blame for this unprecidented event - news reports refer to only "an animal believed to be a squirrel." This is often the case in this kind of animal terrorism, since it is generally a suicide mission.

But Tampans stood up to the attack bravely. Bottled water flew off the shelves, but they did not let the outage interfere with vital services. A McDonald's said it would stay open as long as it could maintain supplies of bottled soda, and the event proved that American culture is not that easy to keep down:
The defining water-bucket moment in "Flashdance The Musical" will still splash the stage at the Straz Center through Sunday thanks to a 25 gallon reservoir that can be refilled with bottled water. In an iconic dance number, leading lady Emily Padgett leans back on a chair, pulls a chain and is drenched by a bucket of water.
"Water for 'Flashdance' is safe," said Paul Bilyeu, director of public relations at The Straz Center.

Squirrel in an ominous position by Flickr user kzamani.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Cute vs. cars

This blog is constantly warning that cute, inoffensive animals are more dangerous than you think. But even I was surprised by this headline:
Bunnies attacking cars at Denver airport
You might think that the winner would be obvious in a fight between a rabbit and a one ton-vehicle, but you underestimate the sneakiness of their methods: They get underneath parked cars and chew on the insulation around the wiring. The damage caused can run from hundreds to thousands of dollars to fix.

To add insult to injury, the city and parking lot operators say the terms of parking permits absolve them of responsibility, and local news even reports that insurance doesn't cover rabbit damage (I assume the person who put that exclusion in the policy is a faithful reader of this blog).

Officials aren't just standing idly by, but so far their methods have apparently been ineffective. Removing hundreds of bunnies a month is no use when more rabbits rush to fill the gap. Drivers have been reduced to coating wires with coyote urine in an attempt to repel the gnawing hordes.

No doubt part of the problem is that more aggressive methods run the risk of provoking opposition from humans who don't know whose side they should be on. "We’re going to try as many natural things as possible," one employee said, obviously hoping to sound like a bunny-hugger, but I'm glad to report that in fact they know exactly what the "natural" method is in a case like this, and they're finally getting serious:
“We’re also going to build raptor perches for the hawks and eagles.”

Monday, February 18, 2013

Canines vs. Civilization

That's an art museum in Orange County, California, suffering the indignity of having a giant dog peeing on it. Part of a temporary exhibition of the work of artist Richard Jackson, the enormous canine actually contains a pump that squirts out yellow paint (and is quite anatomically correct as you can see from other photos).

The artist is clear that this work of art is meant to represent not just an innocent call of nature but an animal behaving badly:
"I understand that Newport Beach has traditionally been a conservative community. But, this is an art museum. This piece of art is making a commentary or statement. The dog is pissing on the museum."
 Local dog-owners, unsurprisingly, find this amusing, and it's rapidly become a favorite place for them to take photos of their own bad dogs:

 Still, at least that dog is only guilty of property damage and a bad attitude. On the East Coast we've got a much more serious case of bad canines being supported by the authorities. Here's a recent headline in the Washington Post:
Is a rabid fox ‘a really good sign’ for the city?   
 The obvious answer to this question is not the one given by the "experts" in this article:
A rabid fox bit a young mother on the leg this week as she crossed a road in Northwest Washington’s Rock Creek Park.
Tuesday’s attack was bad news for the fox, which was later captured by D.C. animal control officers and put down, and for the victim, who has to get a series of rabies shots.
But it was good news to city officials, who saw it as confirmation that the District’s environment is improving, making it more inviting to wildlife, even an occasional sick one.
“It’s actually a really good sign,” maintained Najma Roberts, a spokeswoman for the D.C. Department of Health, which oversees animal control. “When you look at areas that are filled with pollution — not a lot of trees and grass, and garbage everywhere — there is less wildlife.”
This "expert" seems to be unaware that having less wildlife is the whole point of living in cities. Our species invented cities precisely because we realized that it is safer to live with our own garbage than among rabid predators.

All I can do is once again ask the eternal question: whose side are these people on??

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Beware the least likely suspects

An important theme of this blog is that you shouldn't be fooled by cute animals.  I don't need to tell you to be cautious of, say, crocodiles. But here's something you probably didn't know:
Penguins are lethally efficient hunting machines
OK, you don't actually need to be afraid of penguins unless you're a fish. But if I asked you to imagine what would happen if you strapped a camera to a penguin, you'd probably picture something heartwarming, rather than this scene of carnage:
In more than 14 hours of film captured from 11 birds, not once did a penguin miss its target. Some marine creatures had no time to hide, while others tried to flee and failed.
Not as charming as you thought, right? Likewise, if you ever met a three-legged dog, you probably felt sorry for it, and impressed that it seemed so cheerful despite its handicap. You probably never expected it to be a repeat criminal, like the three-legged dog in New Zealand who was caught on security video stealing dog food.

Even after committing this crime, this dog had people feeling sorry for him - when he came back five days later, this time the owner's grandson actually bought the food for him. On the bright side, authorities have now got the culprit in the pound:
“We’ve had dealings with him before, he used to go visiting the young lady dog up the road,” he says. “We’re not too sure what his intentions were.”
But perhaps the most disturbing case I've collected recent shows that even an animal that isn't particularly cute or pathetic can make trouble by pretending to be:
Police forced their way into an apartment in Germany after hearing what they described as a "child-like voice" calling for its mother and father. Instead of an abandoned toddler, they found a cheerful and very talkative parrot.
The woman who called the police on Tuesday morning sounded worried. She said she had been trying for several days to speak to a neighbor but no one had answered the door when she knocked, even though she could hear children's voices inside.
Police dispatched to the flat in the western German town of Ibbenb├╝ren heard a distinct child-like voice calling "Mama," "Papa" and "Mama Come." 
"Police measures were launched because it couldn't be ruled out that an accident had occurred," the police said in a statement. The officers called the landlord and summoned the fire brigade and an ambulance.
The tension increased until a fireman finally managed to open the door.
"To their surprise they only found a parrot in the apartment, a talkative Blue-fronted Amazon. The parrot was sitting happily in its cage and greeted the officers with the words 'Mama,' 'Papa' and 'Mama Come,' the statement said.

Heed the warning photographed by Flickr user 0olong.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Bad Animal News Briefs

Aggressive pizza-stealing dog returned to owners

As Alondra Figuroa, 19, unloaded her grandmother's wheelchair from the back of the family's 2000 Ford Explorer, she noticed barking, police said. She saw a stray dog in the backseat of the vehicle, and it was "devouring" the pizza, police said.
She tried to scare the dog away, but it became aggressive, police said. When police arrived, the dog was still inside the car, eating the pizza and aggressively defending his food.
The dog was wearing a collar with the words "Don't Mess with My Food" inscribed on it.
Parrot steals $1100 from unsuspecting tourist
A thief stole hundreds of dollars from Peter Leach's campervan, but left no fingerprints - because the thief has no fingers.

Mr Leach, a visitor from Glasgow, Scotland, stopped at Arthur's Pass on Wednesday to take in the views at a rest area along State Highway 73. He left the windows down as he snapped photos of the scenery, including one of an unusual bird on the ground near his vehicle.
"A Canadian couple walked by and said: 'We've just seen that bird take something out of your campervan'," Mr Leach laughed.
"It took all the money I had. I was left with $40 in my pocket."
 Finally, if you are having a tough Monday, at least you probably don't have to worry about this workplace hazard:
Komodo dragon wanders into office, attacks two wildlife park employees

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Close to home

In our last post, we were reminded again that people are often afraid of the wrong animals, and I repeated the fact that you're more likely to be killed by a cow than by a shark.

But it's important not to concentrate only on fatal attacks. Animals that are unlikely to kill you can still be dangerous. An important case in point is this report from New South Wales, Australia:
Paramedics say they have been called out to treat as many guinea pig bites as they have shark attacks in NSW over summer.
Not only were there an equal number of shark and guinea pig bites that needed paramedics' attention (two each), other pets did far more damage than either: the article then goes on to report that authorites also responded to 230 dog bites, 22 attacks by cats, and 15 injuries by horse.

So remember: Don't let their cuteness and fuzziness fool you. It's the enemies closest to home that you really need to watch out for.

Roar of the guinea pig by Flickr user Giulia van Pelt.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Know your bad animals

A recurring theme of this blog is that people are afraid of the wrong animals. Here, from Australia, is the sort of thing that happens when you overreact:

Itsy bitsy spider causes major explosion in Kirribilli home

Emergency services were called to the home in McDougall Street shortly after 1pm after an explosion blew out the bathroom and kitchen windows and destroyed a washing machine.
A 66-year-old woman told police and fire fighters she had seen a spider on her washing machine and sprayed it with an insecticide, however, it ran under the machine.
She sprayed more insecticide under the washing machine and fire investigators believe the engine ignited the spray, triggering the explosion. The washing machine was destroyed.
And on the other end of the spectrum we have the problem of underreacting to real threats. It's often combined with another recurring theme here: how we can't trust the authorities to keep us safe from the animals that truly pose a risk. This is true even when their behavior is blatantly disrespectful as in this incident from Western Massachusetts:
Several cows got loose and destroyed more than three dozen flags and grave markers at a Southampton Cemetery.... where as of Wednesday afternoon, you could still notice the hoof marks in the snow. Cemetery commissioners say the animals ate plantings, damaged 40 American flags and possibly just as many bronze markers.
This is no isolated incident, and the police know it:
Police Chief David Silvernail said that while Wykowski’s cows are an “ongoing problem,” there have not been any major incidents. He estimated that police have responded to complaints about the roaming bovines three or four times since last spring.
Yet despite the fact that these cows have now escalated to the desecration of graves, this is apparently still not seen as a "major incident," and the press dismisses it as "something that comes as no surprise to those who live in this small farm town."

Let's just remind everyone: Cows are more likely to kill you than sharks. Don't downplay what may lurk behind that placid bovine exterior, because they have plenty to want revenge for.

 Photo of sign giving fair warning by Flickr user tm-tm.