Callous road-line painters desecrate hedgehog corpse

August 13, 2010

Hartlepool residents have encountered one of the most horrifying acts of animal defilement yet witnessed in this land. Contractors hurriedly painting double-yellow lines failed to dislodge the crushed remains of — and I struggle to write this — a hedgehog, instead choosing to entomb the unfortunate beast in their sickly daubings, The Guardian reports.

Mercifully, the incident was “the only one reported” to the council during the road painting scheme.

Hartlepool has form with regard to the mistreatment of beasts; during the Napoleonic wars, the townsfolk hanged a monkey as one of Boney’s spies following a show trial on the beach.

Zoo chimp drowns in escape attempt

June 9, 2010

A chimpanzee has drowned during an attempt to escape from Veszprém Zoo in Hungary, reports.

Ghafula, an 11 year old female, had recently been transferred to the Hungarian facility from her previous quarters in Amersfoort, in the Netherlands.

The chimpanzee failed to settle in her new home, and, in a bid for freedom, attempted to ford the eight metre moat surrounding her enclosure. She was soon out of her depth, and foundered. Keepers rushed to her aid but were unable to resuscitate her.

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.

4,000 lb rhino escapes Jacksonville zoo

May 8, 2010

A monstrous rhinoceros escaped his pen at a zoo in Jacksonville, FL, The Florida Times-Union reports.

Archie the rhinoceros

Look at the size of him!

Keepers attempted to lure Archie back to his enclosure with food, but to no avail. Eventually the prodigious perissodactyl was sedated and hauled back behind bars. At no time were the public in danger, since the brute remained contained behind a second fence.

Rhinoceroses are not, of course, renowned for their cunning or dexterity. Neither were required for Archie to secure his freedom, since (surprise surprise) a keeper had left a gate open.

Wildlife documentaries “breach animals’ privacy”

May 4, 2010

Recent human concerns about the expansion of the surveillance state, to the extent that one’s every waking moment is observed by sinister officials peering at flickering CCTV screens, have been echoed by a lecturer in film studies at the UEA. Yet, somewhat surprisingly, Brett Mills is not concerned with privacy in the human realm.

Instead, in a recent article for Continuum: the Journal of Media and Cultural Studies, Mills contends that BBC Bristol’s documentaries, including Nature’s Great Events, “use newer forms of technology to overcome species’ desire not to be seen,” and in so doing “deny many species the right to privacy”.

“We have an assumption that humans have some right to privacy, so why do we not assume that for other species, particularly when they are engaging in behaviour that suggests they don’t want to be seen?” Mills rhetorically asks The Guardian.

Your spiny correspondent has frequently speculated that houses are merely artificial caves, to which humans retreat for a bit of shelter from the elements, predators of various stripes, and prying eyes. Mills seems to ask the devastatingly obvious question of whether a beastly lair addresses not only the first two concerns, but also the third.

“We can never really know if animals are giving consent, but they do often engage in forms of behaviour which suggest they’d rather not encounter humans,” Mills argues.

So next time a beluga whale dives under the arctic ice, or a badger pegs it for the safety of his sett, the BBC should think twice before gleefully deploying some fiendishly clever invaso-probe to winkle Nature’s dank mysteries out into the glare of human scrutiny.

Perhaps we can go one further than Mills. Unlike the denizens of human zoo Big Brother, this video of Javan rhinoceroses suggests the critically endangered mammals have no great love for the jungle paparazzi.

For their part, however, BBC Bristol mounted an eminently sensible defence of their activities, countering that their techniques allow them “to film animal behaviour with minimal disruption to the animal.”

“Natural history films play a major role in spreading knowledge of [scientists’] work. And understanding the world around is vital in the continuing endeavour to preserve our ecosystem,” they state.

Ros Coward, writing in The Guardian, links Mills’ research with a further two studies that suggest chimpanzees mourn their dead in a recent article discussing the ascription of emotions to non-human animals.

Coward longs “to see an end to claims of human superiority based on the belief that animals, even if they feel, do not have the ‘higher’ emotions of humans.” But she warns against “unscientific” interpretations of the chimpanzee funeral footage, preferring robust, falsifiable experiments.

Happily, such studies exist: baboons show elevated levels of stress hormones and engage in more social grooming activities following the death of a close relative. But it does not necessarily follow that they are “grieving” in the human sense of the word.

“If we assume animals have identical emotions to humans, perhaps we will insist on treating them as human. But until we know what animals really feel and what those feelings are, then treating them as identical to humans might be just as cruel as ignoring their feelings,” Coward writes.

Of course “treating animals as human” would require that they be endowed with certain inalienable rights humanity cherishes for itself. Most people would probably concede that animals have some kind of right to an existence without unnecessary pain or suffering, even if those terms are not particularly well-defined. Others, of course, demand that animals have a right to life, without ever quite adequately explaining why, if animals are not meant to be eaten, they are nevertheless made of meat. Now Mills suggests that the beasts have a right to privacy. How long, we are forced to ask, before they are afforded the right to representation?

Before this all gets out of hand, and we hear speeches in the House of Lords delivered in ultrasonic clicks, or we see faeces literally flung at the Prime Minister by Her Majesty’s Loyal Apeposition, humanity can reassure itself with the knowledge that, for the time being at least, dolphins still form pods, not political parties, and chimpanzees are organised in troupes, not trade unions.

Chimps ‘mourn their dead,’ studies find

April 27, 2010

The top rung of the ladder of creation is within the hairy reach of the chimpanzee, two new studies suggest.  Scientists working independently in Scotland and Guinea will publish observations in Current Biology that suggest the apes mourn their loved ones when the Chimp Reaper calls.

Staff at Blair Drummond Safari and Adventure Park near Stirling, UK, used video to observe the passing of Pansy, a 50-year-old captive chimpanzee. 

As she ebbed away over the course of a few days, her troop became subdued, and held grooming vigils as she lay stricken.  When she had died, her daughter stayed by her side for an entire night, despite never having used that sleeping platform before. Later, the chimps cleaned Pansy’s corpse, and subsequently avoided the place of her death.

Dr James Anderson, of The University of Stirling, who used the footage in his study, suggests these may be funerary “rituals” of some rudimentary sort.

“Our … research makes a strong case that chimps not only understand the concept of death but also have ways with which they cope with it,” Anderson told New Scientist.

Also found in Current Biology is the work of Oxford University’s Dora Biro et al., who observed chimpanzees in Bossou district, Guinea, carrying the mummified corpses of their offspring for weeks after their deaths. The mothers eventually relinquished their dead, a decision which Biro thinks is linked to fertility cycles.

“The hormonal changes the chimps experience as their bodies gear up to reproduce may push them into ‘letting go’ of the corpses,” she told New Scientist. “We don’t know that for sure, but our observations suggest that may be true.”

Anderson thinks the chimpanzees’ behaviour further blurs the already-indistinct boundary between humans and the balance of creation.

“Several phenomena have at one time or another been considered as setting humans apart from other species: reasoning ability, language ability, tool use, cultural variation, and self-awareness, for example. But science has provided strong evidence that the boundaries between us and other species are nowhere near to being as clearly defined as many people used to think.

“The awareness of death is another such psychological phenomenon.”

The studies bring academic rigour to anecdotal observations published by The Times last October. Apes at the Sanaga Yong Chimpanzee Rescue Centre in Cameroon maintained a respectful silence as they watched the funeral cortège of Dorothy.

Mange-crazed wombat attacks Victoria bushfire survivor

April 12, 2010

A survivor of Australia’s deadly bushfires was set upon and dragged to the ground by a crazed wombat, ABC news reports.

Bruce Kringle, 60, who was made homeless by the “Black Saturday” blazes, was living in a caravan whilst awaiting the completion of his new, permament home, when the maniacal marsupial attacked.

Kringle inadvertantly trod on the hairy-nosed beast when leaving his caravan. The wombat “proceeded to get rather nasty,” in the words of the attending paramedic, and subjected Kringle to a 20 minute ordeal, gnawing his leg, upper arm, and chest.

Kelly Smith, a friend of Kringle, told AAP: “Bruce managed to find an axe and kill it.”

Department of Sustainability and Environment spokesman Geoff McClure speculated that the creature may have been suffering from mange. “In the advanced stages wombats become very irritable and anyone who approaches them, they usually view as a threat and may run towards them,” he said.

In this light, the killing of the mangy marsupial may have been merciful, despite Battling Bruce’s unconventional choice of instrument.

BBC News has some handy wombat facts, which include skill in producing cube-shaped droppings.

Pig transporter overturns on motorway

April 12, 2010

A pig transporter has overturned on the M4 motorway in Wiltshire, UK, BBC News reports.

Dozens of porkers were spilled from the double-decker trailer. Thirteen swine are confirmed dead, and vets are treating an unspecified number of injured.

A spokesman for Wiltshire Police told the BBC: “The remainder have been recovered into a second transporter.”

But a Highways Agency spokesman appeared to contradict the Police’s claim, saying the emergency services were merely “doing their best to round them up”.

Motorists are advised to avoid the area, between Junctions 17 (Chippenham) and 18 (Bath), or to bring plentiful supplies of white bread and brown sauce.

Whether a media frenzy similar to that which greeted the Tamworth Two‘s escape remains to be seen.

Winston the bulldog bests Tennessee cops

March 28, 2010

A Tennessee patrolman had cause to call for backup this week as a crazed bullldog made short work of his patrol car.

According to a report at, officers unsuccessfully tried to subdue Winston with pepper spray and a Taser.

Winston’s owner, Michael Emerling, expressed gratitude for the restraint exhibited by the police. “In other areas near here, police have shot dogs for much less,” he said.

The motor-munching mutt has been bound over to keep the peace for six months, lest he be declared a dangerous dog.