Thursday, August 28, 2014

Pandas show their true colors

There's a story getting very wide coverage this week, which almost gives me hope that I will no longer be a lone voice against the evils of pandas. For this one, there's no need to make a subtle argument about the disproportionate resources and attention that are being diverted to this species. This is one where they are really showing their true colors. It's hard to choose from the array of clever headlines, including at the Guardian, Pandering to the crowd: panda accused of faking pregnancy in bun fraud case,  but I'm going to go with the efficient summary at CNN:

Report: Panda 'may have faked pregnancy' for more buns, bamboo

A giant panda intended to be the star of the first ever live broadcast of the birth of panda cubs has lost the role -- after it was discovered the bear is not pregnant after all, Chinese state media reported.

Not only was it a phantom pregnancy but zookeepers suspect the panda, Ai Hin, may have been faking it to improve her quality of life, the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding told Xinhua on Monday.

Ai Hin, age six, had shown signs of pregnancy, including a change in appetite, moving less and an increase in progestational hormone in July, according to Xinhua.

But after observing her for two months, she began acting normally again, zookeepers said.

Experts say pandas sometimes carry on the behaviors associated with early pregnancy after noticing that they get preferential treatment, the news agency said.

"After showing prenatal signs, the 'mothers-to-be' are moved into single rooms with air conditioning and around-the-clock care," Wu Kongju, an expert at the Chengdu base, is quoted as saying.

"They also receive more buns, fruits and bamboo, so some clever pandas have used this to their advantage to improve their quality of life."

Photo from the birthday of my current least favorite panda at the National Zoo.

Monday, August 25, 2014

New bear advice: Forget it. We're doomed

So many animals are bigger and stronger and have sharper parts than humans. But we take comfort in our advantages: our opposable thumbs and our big brains that allow us to use tools and cleverness to defend ourselves. Cleverness like, say, hanging our food at the end of a long rope to keep bears from getting it when we're camping.

Or so we thought:
PULLMAN, MT — It may no longer be good enough to hang your food in a tree to keep it away from bears when you go camping, according to a first-of-its-kind study at the Washington State University Bear Research Education and Conservation Center.

Some — but not all — grizzlies can use primitive tools to thwart your efforts.
 The study’s participants are eight grizzly bears — five males and three females — who are challenged to get their paws on a glazed doughnut hung out of reach in their play area on the WSU campus.

Researchers place a sawed-off tree stump below the hanging treat to see if the animals will stand on it to reach the object of their desire. Once they do, the stump is turned on its side and moved away from the treat. Researchers observe whether the bears will move it back under the doughnut.

So far, researchers have identified one bear — a 9-year-old female — who has become the star of the show.

Kio, who was born in the center in 2005, has sailed through the tasks, while others are still discovering the basics.
“She manipulates an inanimate object in several steps to help her achieve a goal, which in this case is to obtain food. This fits the definition of tool use,” Nelson said.
From the researchers' description of the value of the findings, they're clearly the usual sort of experts who aren't clear whose side they're on. Sure, they say that understanding how bears think may help us solve "bear-related problems." But they're obviously really more interested in bear-centric issues: “Being able to problem solve allows for a species to ‘think outside the box’ so to speak. This may be important if habitat and food resources change.”

And apparently the average person is no better. Rather than being berated for setting up a study that helps bears learn to defeat fundamental human defenses, here's the complaint they have to address:
"People often don’t like to see us feeding the bears sweets such as doughnuts,” she said. “I really appreciate that and I am glad that people care. We do give sweets as special treats, but not as a major part of their diet.”

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Truth About Owls

I suppose it's inevitable that a generation that grew up on Harry Potter would consider owls cute and friendly creatures appropriate to decorate tote bags and baby clothes. If you want to know what these ruthless carnivores are really like, read this AP article that impressed even me, and I was sure I'd seen it all:

Owl soars into Idaho window and kills pet canary
An owl flew into a 10th story apartment in Coeur d'Alene, apparently opened a bird cage and killed one of two canaries inside, the residents said.

Sue Sausser said she awakened Sunday to find bird droppings and feathers all over her apartment, the Coeur d'Alene Press reported.

Sausser found the brownish, yellow-eyed owl between the wall and the chest of drawers on which the bird cage sits. It flew out the door and perched on their balcony railing long enough for them to take a few pictures. Don Sausser estimated the owl was 6 to 8 inches tall.

Sue and Don Sausser found one of their canaries dead in the cage. The other seemed jumpy and anxious, they said.

Beth Paragamian, wildlife education specialist with for Idaho Fish and Game and the Bureau of Land Management, said it's strange that an owl would be flying so high in an area without many tall trees and surprising that it would enter a residence, much less open a bird cage.

"That is very unusual," she said.

Don Sausser said they'll likely still leave their sliding glass door open on warm summer evenings, but plan to use twist ties to secure the door on the bird cage.

Heed the warning photographed by Flickr user Michelle Voli.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Snark Week

Shark Week may be over but it's not too late to head over to the excellent Last Word on Nothing where instead of fake TV about an animal that isn't nearly as dangerous as advertised, you can read about the bad behavior of nutria, chickens, moose, and squirrels. And if you don't, at least take this quote from a wildlife biologist to heart:
“Assume every moose is a serial killer standing in the middle of the trail with a loaded gun.”