Benin police shoot escaped chimp

June 2, 2010

Police in Benin have shot and killed a chimpanzee that escaped from a zoo in the west African nation, Next News reports.

The death of a chimpanzee by the hands of its human neighbours in Africa is not, in itself, particularly newsworthy. But anglophone readers may find additional poignancy in the Next News report; the article is afforded lyrical qualities by the translation:

Residents of Ogba, on the outskirt of Benin City were thrown into panic penultimate week when a chimpanzee allegedly escaped from its cage in the Ogba Zoological garden and attacked some fun seekers at the zoo.

One of the “fun seekers”, Nwoke Chidozie, was forced to intervene when his “last son”, Divine, was attacked by the crazed primate. Chidozie half-nelsoned the hominin into submission, in all likelihood saving his son’s life in the process.

A spokesman for the Benin police, Peter Ogboi, told reporters: “When it became evident that the chimpanzee had became [sic] a threat to others on sight-seeing at the zoo, the best we could do was to ensure that those that have left the cage will have no access to people to injure then [sic]. At that point, what was normal was for the police to ensure that the animal does not exist.”

Thanks to the intervention of Benin City’s finest, the animal does not, anymore, exist.


Kung-fu bear footage ‘may be genuine’

June 1, 2010

Footage of a bear demonstrating extraordinary skill with the quarterstaff may be genuine, according to scientists, The Telegraph reports.

Claude the moon bear, who is currently residing at the pleasure of keepers at Asa Zoo, Hiroshima, is the latest ursine sensation to sweep the Internet nation, following the emergence of amateur footage uploaded to YouTube:

Professor Marc Bekoff from the University of Colorado told the Telegraph: “This goes beyond normal animal usage of complex tools but then again you can train seals to balance balls on their noses and train elephants to paint with their trunks, so why not this? I would guess this is the result of extreme training and would find it hard to believe the animal taught itself this spontaneously.”

Bekoff maintains that the bear’s skills are not natural — as if we needed to be told — and were probably developed in response to “extreme boredom”.

But whether Claude’s technique was honed in anticipation of the hand-to-paw combat that is certain to greet his imminent escape attempt, or was conferred upon him by ambient radiation in the traditional style of 1950’s superheroes, remains to be seen.


Ape apologist: apes escape because they can

March 17, 2010

Following Dallas Zoo’s recent embarrassing incident, The Dallas Morning News quizzed Kristen Lukas, who holds the gorilla chair at the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Species Survival Plan.

Dr Lukas is evidently an individual of exquisite taste and subtlety, since her answers betray a close reading of these pages. Asked whether gorillas are more likely than other species to spring from confinement, she answered:

I am not aware of any data that would [support that conclusion]. I am aware of a wide range of animals that have breached containment in a zoo, including birds, turtles, snakes, monkeys, carnivores, insects and hoof stock, in addition to apes. You may be aware that 30 chimpanzees escaped a British zoo enclosure last year, for example. I think the evidence to date suggests orangutans [like Pulang and Karta] and are among the most creative escape artists.

When asked to consider what should be done to prevent animal escapes from zoos, Dr Lukas answered:

… things can happen unexpectedly. Equipment can fail, infrastructure can age and human error can lead to opportunities for animals to breach containment. In short: Animals escape because they can.

Read the Q&A in full.

When she is not (allegedly) reading idiotic animal escape blogs in her spare time, Dr Lukas works to understand the behaviour of captive animals — especially primates — with a view to improving their welfare.


Monster squid menace Pacific coast

January 16, 2010

Back in July 2009, when I reported on the Anchorage Horror, a correspondent alerted me to another terrifying invasion that menaced the Pacific coast of the United States: los diablos rojos had arrived in California.

The Humboldt squid, which shares its name with the cold current that sweeps up the west coast of the New World, is a large, agressive, marine invertebrate, qualities that place it high on a list of disconcerting species.

Now, a combination of increasing numbers and a propensity to show up in unexpected locations has propelled it to number one.

Dosidicus gigas are ordinarily found in cool, deep waters off the coast of South America. But they have recently been found as far north as Washington, British Columbia and Alaska.

Such changes in distribution have prompted scientists to ask more about their migratory patterns. One hypothesis suggests that the squid are especially well-adapted to the hypoxic zone, an oxygen-poor portion of the water column lying between 200 and 600 metres below the surface.

Changes in oceanic conditions, linked to climate change and the influence of the El Nino Southern Osscilation, have caused a vertical expansion in the hypoxic zone. Together with the depletion of competitive predatory species such as tuna, these changes have brought the squid to the attention of humanity.

Fisherman's friend

Marine biologists are quite literally grappling with the mystery of the invertebrate invasion, New Scientist reports, and are attempting to fit the cephalopods with radio tags — an endeavour that requires skill, strength and nerve.

The squid are so enraged by the intervention of the scientists that they squirt caustic ink at the humans’ eyes, and flash deep red by activating their chromatophores, a behaviour that earns them their Castillian moniker — the Red Devil.

And who can blame them? By comparison, the traditional tool used to haul 50 lb Jumbo Squid from the depths, the jig, makes a fakir’s sword-swallowing act look like a blancmange-eating competition. Small wonder that the creatures are roused to sufficient heights of knavishness to interest California’s game fishermen.

So is the Humboldt Squid’s fierce reputation justified?

Roger Uzan, who filmed the menacing molluscs for an otherwise faintly preposterous documentary, noted they “appeared more curious than aggressive” when approached on their own terms. Indeed the species has even exhibited cooperative and communicative hunting behaviour.

So whilst we scan the skies, plaintively wondering whether we are alone, we might also consider the possibility that intelligent, alien lifeforms with an evolutionary pedigree that exceeds our own by at least 480 million years can be found much closer to home.

TLDR:


Cayman Islands declare war on lionfish

January 6, 2010

New aquatic front opens in war on Nature

Scores of scuba divers have been conscripted by the Cayman Islands’ government in their struggle against invasive lionfish, Reuters reports.

Red lionfish

Isolated lionfish, native to the Indian and Pacific oceans, were first spotted in the Caribbean in 2008. But a lack of natural predators has allowed the species to swell in number, not least because the female can produce a staggering 30,000 eggs each month.

The spiny terrors have an insatiable appetite, and threaten to gobble up all the small fish that ordinarily graze unmolested among the honeymoon destination’s famed corals.

DiveTech, a scuba outfit in the island paradise, is training pleasure divers to become cold-blooded killers.

“You have to be slow and careful and you have to treat them with respect. We have found they are quite clever. So if you move too quickly and scare the fish off, they will remember you and when you get close again they will retreat immediately,” DiveTech’s Simon Dixon told Reuters.

Mercifully for the Caymans’ native fish, humans find the lionfish as tasty as they themselves find their tiny prey. Their flesh has been compared to such local favourites as grouper and red snapper.

Indeed the poisonous monstrosities fetch a sufficiently high price in swanky US restaurants that they may yet provide the Caymans with a new source of income — precious revenue if the war should be lost, and the snorkelling tourists fly elsewhere.


Camel horde besieges Australian town

November 26, 2009

When camels come, they come not single spies but in battalions

A town in Australia’s Northern Territory has been besieged by legions of thirsty camels, The Times reports.

Residents of Docker River, NT, are even now trembling in their homes as a thundering herd of feral dromedaries lays waste to their town in search of liquid sustenance.

Townsfolk first noticed the vanguard of the humpbacked horde in October, as a few desperate dromedaries sought respite from Australia’s endless drought. As the weeks wore on, the thirsty beasts gradually swelled in number, cracking open fire hydrants and moisture condensers in an attempt to slake their burning thirst.

“Some people are opening their windows and all they see is camels,” Graham Taylor, chief executive of the MacDonnell Shire Council, told The Times.

Taylor has secured emergency funding from Northern Territory’s local government to hire helicopter-borne marksmen in an effort to exterminate the marauders from the air.

However, reports have emeged that a division of camels has seized control of the local airport, “causing problems with medical evacuations.”

“More and more keep arriving! The numbers are building daily!” Taylor screamed into a shortwave radio, moments before he was replaced by the sinister hiss of static.

Camels were introduced to the antipodes in the mid-nineteenth century in an attempt to tame the arid interior. Having lately cast off the shackles of human bondage, the creatures have successfully established a feral population that is estimated to exceed a million in number.

Through wanton environmental destructiveness, they have earned themselves an A$19m price on their heads. But if this month’s developments are any guide, the Australian federal government has had its work cut out.


Crazed kangaroo tries to drown man, dog

November 24, 2009

Following March’s lunatic ninja kangaroo attack, Australia’s marsupial population appears to have developed aquatic kung-fu skills, ABC News reports.

Chris Rickard, 49, of Arthur’s Creek, Victoria, inadvertantly surprised a sleeping ‘roo, which immediately sprang into the nearest body of water.

Rickard’s canine companion, Rocky, failed to suppress his instincts and gave chase, but was immediately bogwashed for his trouble.

Caring naught for the consequences, the valorous Victorian waded into the billabong in an attempt to rescue his pooch, but was rewarded with deep gashes to his abdomen and a visit to the local A&E.

“I thought I might take a hit or two dragging the dog out from under his grip, but I didn’t expect him to actually attack me,” an incredulous Rickard told ABC News from his hospital bed.

“They [Kangaroos] don’t go around killing people,” Rickard said, adding: “I don’t think I’ll ever be able to watch Skippy quite the same.”

Rocky, being a dog, was of course completely unharmed.


Argentine ants plot global domination

July 13, 2009

Humanity’s inevitable subjugation under the merciless lash of the invertebrates came one step closer today, as the BBC reports the encirclement of the globe by a vast, unbroken colony of Argentine ants.

Scientists presently cowering in Japan, Europe and the United States discovered a horrifying degree of fraternisation between geographically-disparate colonies of Linepithema humile, a species of ant once endemic to South America. Unwittingly, clay-footed humans have introduced the sextuped horde to every continent save Antarctica.

The ants are implacably hostile to other L. humile individuals who are not demonstrably members of their own colony. Kinship is gleaned from specific chemical signals issued from the ants’ carapaces.

Researchers have shown, for example, that encounters between the dominant European super-colony and the smaller Catalan colony inevitably result in scuffles; the sunburnt Europeans boistrously guzzle sangria and toss garden furniture into the pool, whilst mustachioed Iberian ants casually grope European females and overcharge for accommodation.

Somewhat unexpectedly, however, when ants from the European super-colony met representatives from the Japanese super-colony, it was all smiles. The ants “rubbed antennae with one another, never became aggressive, or tried to avoid one another.” Similar behaviour was observed between the Californians and Japanese, and indeed the Californians and Europeans.

The only plausible explanation, researchers claim, is that ants from the three dominant super-colonies are more closely related to one another than they are to members of the minor colonies.

“Absence or low levels of aggression at transcontinental scale, which may have derived from low genetic variation, may help introduced Argentine ants maintain expansive supercolonies,” the puny humans report in Insectes Sociaux.

“The enormous extent of this population is paralleled only by human society,” they continue.

Readers tempted to quote Kent Brockman are hereby relieved of duty.


Invading turtles bring JFK to standstill

July 9, 2009

Flights at JFK airport, New York, were brought to a standstill by an invasion of turtles, the Associated Press reports.

The leisurely incursion began at 0830 EDT when an American Eagle pilot reported three turtles at the end of a runway, causing the tower to suspend flghts for 12 minutes while ground staff herded the reptiles to safety.

Flights were eventually diverted to an alternate strip as the turtles’ numbers gradually swelled to a “massive” 78.

FAA spokesman Jim Peters told AP: “Apparently, this is something the tower has experienced before. I guess it’s the season for spawning.”

The chelonian encroachment comes six months after geese downed a US Airways jet leaving nearby La Guardia airport. Famously, the pilot successfully ditched in the Hudson with no loss of life.

Shortly thereafter, New Scientists’s Feedback column expressed disbelief that the FAA’s Wildlife Strike Database featured 80 turtle strikes.

Now we know why.


Monkeys loose aboot this hoose

July 7, 2009

Several monkeys escaped the clutches of Edinburgh Zoo on Friday, and five remain at large, Scottish independent broadcaster STV reports.

Auld Reekie zookeepers are even now trying to tempt the Barbary macaques, recently arrived from a zoo in Germany, down from the trees with bananas, nuts and seeds.

Edinburgh zoo committed the schoolboy error of trying to move primates between enclosures when the macaques discovered a “chink in the armour” of their new pen, according to BBC Scotland.

Head zookeeper Lorna Hughes said: “We moved our 12 barbary macaques to a new enclosure within the zoo and, being inquisitive animals, they decided to explore their enclosure and found a certain little weakness where they could climb up a certain part of the wall and make their way under the electric fence at the top.”

The escaped macaques are more commonly known as “Barbary Apes”, famous for infesting the rock of Gibraltar. Additional pub quiz trivia: despite their common name, they are not, in fact apes, and they are the only extant European non-human primate.

Rumours that a smouldering American macaque stole a Triumph TR6 Trophy and attempted to vault the barbed wire before being brutally slain by keepers remain unconfirmed.