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Wild Animals
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Resources for Speakers - Anecdotes About Wild Animals


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Zoo Animals and People

When I first heard about the killing of a beloved gorilla after a child plummeted into his enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo, I immediately published this tweet: "It was an unfortunate series of unintended events that left officials with no option but to make one terrible choice to avoid another horrific outcome." OK, you probably know I'm lying for two reasons: First, that's eleven more characters than Twitter allows. And second, no one ever has an even-handed social media response to a controversial event. Some blamed the team that made the decision to shoot and kill Harambe (because we're all experts at making quick decisions with lives on the line). Most blamed the parents of the 4 year-old boy who fell into the enclosure (because we're all totally awesome parents who have never had an off moment). And others blamed the parents of the zookeepers for raising people who thought it seemed like a good idea to keep a gorilla in an enclosure in the first place. But here's the bottom line. A decade ago, this event might have told us something about the complexities of parenting, zoos, animals, and first responders. But thanks to social media, this story mostly tells us something about ourselves. And it's not pretty.

The "McGyver" Spider

Biologist Phil Torres, working from the Tambopata national park in Peru, revealed in December that he had witnessed a tiny Cyclosa-family spider construct a replica of an eight-legged spider in a web but made only of leaves, debris, and dead insects. Since the real spider was found nearby, Torres hypothesized that the wily arachnid had built a decoy to confuse predators.

Strange Genetalia

One of the most peculiar is the live-bearing fish Gambusia vittata. The female has evolved a flap of tissue that conceals the entire genital region. Copulation in these fish is extremely rapid and athletic, with the males performing a complicated torque thrust manoevre in just 50 milliseconds, including dealing with the flap. The genitalia of both sexes is so peculiar that the species was originally given its own genus, Flexipenis.

Danger

Each year, more people are killed by vending machines than by sharks.

250,000 birds were killed by the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989. About the same number die each year in the US alone, crashing into windows.

Why Animals Can't Talk

For four decades, the inability of nonhuman primates to produce human speech sounds has been claimed to stem from limitations in their vocal tract anatomy, a conclusion based on plaster casts made from the vocal tract of a monkey cadaver. We used x-ray videos to quantify vocal tract dynamics in living macaques during vocalization, facial displays, and feeding. We demonstrate that the macaque vocal tract could easily produce an adequate range of speech sounds to support spoken language, showing that previous techniques based on postmortem samples drastically underestimated primate vocal capabilities. Our findings imply that the evolution of human speech capabilities required neural changes rather than modifications of vocal anatomy. Macaques have a speech-ready vocal tract but lack a speech-ready brain to control it.

Crocs Using Tools

Researchers documented crocodiles using tools. They'd gather a couple of sticks and push them along with their snouts, hoping to lure nest-building birds to their doom.

Carnivores

There is no such thing as a vegetarian snake. They eat nothing but other animals.

Hummingbirds

Hummingbirds were in peril because their migration path was being squeezed by urban development in California removing the nectar plants they depended upon to refuel on their flight from Mexico to Oregon. But hummingbirds are beautiful and cute, so many Americans have put up feeders to deliver liquid sugar.



So many have done this that the flight path is now much wider than it ever was when the birds were relying on natural sources.

Octopuses

Some octopuses will engage with you. They might reach out an arm and touch your hand. They will investigate an object you present to them, giving every impression of thinking about it as they do so. All the while, they will appear to watch you with their large, mobile eyes. ... In other words, an encounter with an octopus can sometimes leave you with the strong feeling that you've encountered another mind.

But that mind - if mind it is - has evolved along a route entirely different from the one that led to our own. The most-recent common ancestors of humans and octopuses lived about 600 million years ago, early in the evolution of animal life. ... In the words of Peter Godfrey-Smith, "If we can make contact with cephalopods as sentient beings, it is not because of a shared history, not because of kinship, but because evolution built minds twice over. This is probably the closest we will come to meeting an intelligent alien."

Horses

Wild horses in the Camargne in France - some conventional herds with alpha male and harem, and bachelor stallions without any mares - but also groups of mares with 2 stallions, who were lifelong friends - useful way to break free from low social status by co-operation

Mountain Lions

In 1921, researchers for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife stated categorically in a journal that "the one predatory animal" inspiring practically nothing "good" is the mountain lion, but recent research in the journal Conservation Letters credits the animal for saving the lives of many motorists by killing deer, thus tempering the current annual number (20,000) of driver-deer collisions. Even killing deer, mountain lions still trail pussycats as predators; researchers in Nature Communications in 2013 estimated that "free-ranging [U.S.] domestic cats" kill at least 1.4 billion birds and 6.9 billion small mammals annually.

Animal Sex

Studies of other primates have shown that chimps are more aggressive than humans (they will hunt down monkeys in a pack, usually because a chimp female will give them sex in exchange for monkey meat). Bonobos are further down the empathy end of the friendliness spectrum - spend their time grooming, playing games and having sex (Billy Connolly was quoted as saying he wanted to come back as "half bonobo, half kiwi" - the latter because they spend about 20 hours a day asleep)

Animal Sex

Researcher Patricia Brennan of Yale University told a conference in July that a duck's penis may vary in length from year to year--depending on their competition that year. Their penises waste away after each mating season and regrow, and Brennan found that they regrow longer if there are other males around. (Female ducks are known to have corkscrew-shaped vaginas, and thus a centimeter or two can make a big difference for success in mating.)

Animal Sex

Oceanic squid live in the deep deep ocean where it's too dark to see if the other is a guy or a gal. So male squid leave packages of sperm on every squid they meet and hope for the best.

Insect Sex

When female fruit flies hear male courtship songs, they turn on immune system genes, apparently getting ready for potential infections.

The aptly named Zeus bug male enjoys a work-free existence because the female provides all his needs. She piggy-backs him everywhere, supplies all his food and all the sex he can cope with.

Penguin Prostitution

Penguin females will have sex with males other than their mates in exchange for precious nest stones. Some males will even bring extra stones afterwards, as a sort of performance bonus. First known observation of prostitution outside primates.

Chimps and Bonobos Empathy and Aggression

Studies of both chimps, which are famously aggressive, and bonobos, which are much more empathic. Both these primates have DNA that is nearly identical to that of humans. Argue that homo sapiens inherits both the violent competitive traits and the gentle ones. Bonobos greet colonies outside their own with grooming, playing games and having sex. So the trick is to understand how bonobo society managed to escape humanity's xenophobia and our tendency to discount the lives of our enemies.

Animals Lying

Chimps can be machiavellian - capable of deception. In an experiment, a chimp was shown several boxes containing food, and another one with a snake in it. He led the other chimps to the box with the snake in it: they fled screaming, leaving him to enjoy the feast in peace

Modern Problems

"Streamers," according to workers at the state-of-the-art solar plant in California's Mojave Desert, are birds that cross the path of the 300,000 garage-door-sized mirrors that magnify the sun's rays on their way to producing steam to power 140,000 homes. Those birds, instantly fried, vanish in plumes of smoke at the rate of perhaps one every two minutes, according to an August Associated Press dispatch from Ivanpah Dry Lake near the Nevada border. According to federal wildlife officials, the plant's bright light attracts insects, which then attract even more birds. The operator, BrightSource Energy, said there is no feasible way to protect the birds.

Unintended Consequences

In British India there was a little problem with cobras. The obvious solution was to put a bounty on them. The only problem was that the price for each cobra the British were offering was greater than the cost of breeding and raising a cobra. The result was people breeding tons of snakes to claim the bounty. When the government realized what was happening they scrapped the whole program. People raising the now worthless cobras set them loose. The end result was a big cobra problem.

Blind as a Bat

There are over 1200 species of bats in the world and not one of them is blind.

Animals That Can't Move Backwards

Emu and kangaroos can't move backwards. In fact, it's because they're always "moving forward" that they're on the official seal of Australia.

Not So Fast

Four villagers in northeast Kenya, angry that cheetahs were killing their goats, lay in wait one night in November and then chased down and captured the cheetahs. Cheetahs are regarded as the fastest mammals on Earth, but they lack endurance; Kenyans are marathon prodigies. Indeed, the cheetahs were captured only when they ran out of gas after about four miles of pursuit by the Kenyans, and were handed over alive, and exhausted, to the Kenyan Wildlife Service.

Rare Species of Animals

Biologists Studying Rare Species Have to Be Quick: Researchers learned from reports in early 2010 of a new monkey species in Myanmar, with a nose so recessed that it habitually collects rainfall and constantly sneezes. However, according to an October National Geographic dispatch, by the time scientists arrived to investigate, natives had eaten the monkey. (The sneezing makes them easy for hunters to detect.) (Researchers studying a rare species of Vietnamese lizard had an easier time in November. After learning of the species and rushing to Ba Ria-Vung Tau province, a team from La Sierra University in Riverside, Calif., found the lizards being routinely served in several restaurants' lunch buffets.)

Do-gooders

Recurring Theme: From time to time, Buddhist groups attempt to improve their "karmic balance" by doing good deeds for Earth's animal cohabitants. (Previously, News of the Weird mentioned a California group's "freeing" fish by buying out a pet shop's inventory and liberating the "lucky" fish into the Pacific Ocean, where they were undoubtedly eaten almost immediately by larger fish.)

In June, about 50 members of the "Let Blessings and Wisdom Grow" Buddhist group in Beijing bought at least 200 snakes, took them into a rural area of Hebei province, and, chanting, released them. Almost immediately, the snakes infested the nearby village of Miao Erdong, horrifying the villagers, who were able to club to death some of the snakes but who remained on edge.

Animals and Languages

"Why is it that humans can learn language, and learn it so easily, yet no other species can be taught a language?" "No matter how hard you try to tempt chimpanzees with bananas, the overwhelming conclusion of 20-30 years of researchers teaching chimps sign language is how completely inept they are. Tracts have been written on this and claims that 'This chimp has 173 signs' but they're all nouns and requests for food."

Nursery For Baby Animals

In Congo, a nursery has been established for baby gorillas and chimps whose mothers had been killed for bush meat. Just as needy as human babies - constantly seeking cuddles and attention, so human helpers usually seen lugging them around in backpacks (cue cute photo). During the day the older ones are let loose in a small area of forest nearby where they could practice being wild animals.

Baby Animals Development

CHIMPANZEES have long been known for their ability to mimic humans. Now scientists have found that the mental development of baby chimps can even be more advanced than children of the same age. The chimps were reared by humans after being rejected by their mothers. One group was given 4-5 hours a day of individually tailored 'mothering' while the other chimps were given more basic human care. The scientists found that the cognitive performance at nine months of those which had received the extra care was significantly better than the other group. They also outperformed infants in orphanages in Greece and Romania and were similar to a typical American baby.

Baby Whales

Whales have their own form of baby talk to communicate with offspring, scientists have found. Female cetaceans use a special language when in the presence of their own calves that they do not use with adults.The discovery was made by scientists studying the distinctive clicks that whales use to communicate when members of a group. They found distinctive patterns between mothers and calves.

Animals Using Tools and Planning

A chimp that makes rocks of concrete to later throw at zoo visitors is being cited as proof that the apes plan for future events. He collects rocks from the bottom of the moat around his enclosure before the zoo opens, and stores them in piles on the side of the island that faces the zoo's visitors. He also hacks pieces of concrete from the artificial rocks at the centre of his enclosure and adds them to the piles. It's very hard to stop him because he can always find new stones, and if he can't find them he manufactures them. Luckily since chimps don't have a good aim, and throw underarm, there haven't been any serious injuries.

Rhesus monkeys have always posed delicate problems in India, where they are both revered (by Hindu law) and despised (for damaging property and roaming the streets begging for food). In Delhi, the rhesus population has grown dramatically, aided by the Hindus who feed them, and streets and private property are increasingly fouled. However, Amar Singh's business is good. He owns 65 langurs (apes much more vicious than rhesus monkeys) and, for the equivalent of about $200 per month, periodically brings one or two by a client's house to urinate in the yard so that the rhesus monkeys will steer clear.

Animal Empathy?

Binti, a gorilla at a zoo outside of Chicago who became a "bona fide hero" (according to newspaper accounts) by saving a 3-year-old boy who had fallen into the gorilla enclosure; Binti picked the boy up gently and carried him to a door where paramedics waited. There is often less to such accounts than meets the eye. What appear on the surface to be instances of insight, reflection, empathy or higher purpose frequently turn out to be a fairly simple learned behavior, of a kind that every sentient species from humans to earthworms exhibits all the time.

In Binti's case, the gorilla did not (as her keepers have repeatedly pointed out, in vain) "rescue" the boy at all: He was in no immediate danger, and the other gorillas were quickly shooed out of the pen by zookeepers wielding high-pressure fire hoses. Moreover, it turns out that, prior to this incident, Binti had been systematically trained to carry a doll and bring it to her keepers. This was done because many zoo-reared gorillas fail to develop normal maternal instincts; the zookeepers wanted to be sure that her impending newborn would receive immediate care. Binti's feat was the equivalent of a dog playing fetch, and she might well have reacted very differently, even aggressively, had the boy not been knocked senseless by his fall.

Penguins Falling Over Backwards Urban Legend

(It turned out to be an Urban(?) Legend, but it was a good story while it lasted) Penguins were supposedly falling over backwards when planes flew overhead - apparently because planes were a novelty in their breeding grounds penguins had not had time to adapt their behaviour, so they just kept moving head back and back and back as the plane flew over, and eventually toppled over - would have been an amusing effect in a large colony as domino effect cascaded. Someone actually got a grant (and the loan of some RAF helicopters) to study the phenomenon in Falklands (pilots probably just as bored as the penguins)(maybe they started the story in the first place) and found that the birds completely ignored the aircraft.

Australian Animals

Dogs and cats, as well as wild animals searching for food sometimes show up with their heads caught in fences, buckets, or food containers (and, to avoid starvation, need to be freed by helpful humans). In a suburb of Adelaide, in March, a deadly Eastern brown snake turned up needing similar aid, but it being Australia, its head was stuck in a beer can.

Protection Against Predators

A conservation biologist at Australia's University of New South Wales said in July that his team was headed to Botswana to paint eyeballs on cows' rear ends. It's a solution to the problem of farmers who are now forced to kill endangered lions to keep them away from their cows. However, the researchers hypothesize, since lions hunt by "stealth" (and tend to pass up kills if the the prey spots them), painting on eyeballs might trick the lions on to other prey. (For the same reason, woodcutters in India wear "face"-painted masks--backward--for protection against tigers.)

The importance of a des res

For crayfish, a spacious home is the only way to a females heart. Bigger is always better. Males live with as many females as they can squash into their coral shelters, so competition for large dens is fierce. Homeless bachelors spend most of their time looking to upgrade their real estate, and guys with big houses are too scared to leave.

Stories About Animal Revenge

Animal revenge - numerous stories of animals taking revenge on supposedly smarter humans:

- kangaroo knocked out in road collision; motorist dresses him up in his flash jacket and hat to take photo; animal wakes up and hops off into the sunset.

- similar story of deer, this time with expensive rifle posed in its antlers ..

Animal Revenge In Fiction

- Banjo Patterson wrote a hilarious short story called The Loaded Dog about guys in Outback town trying to get rid of a rabbit under the pub; tied a bomb to a mongrel dog and chucked him under the building - unfortunately he didn't like it there and ran under a brand new truck ...

Animal Friends Co-operation

Wild horses in the Camargne in France - some conventional herds with alpha male and harem, and bachelor stallions without any mares - but also groups of mares with 2 stallions, who were lifelong friends - useful way to break free from low social status by co-operation

Cloning Extinct Animals

Suggestion that should clone the extinct Tasmanian Tiger, but tweak genes to give it by 10% more muscle mass and so strength to see off dingoes etc

Smart Animals

Botanist who trained monkey to climb up into forest canopy to get flower specimens. Once they were travelling along steep mountain path and saw specimen growing on a liana hanging down from path. "Go down" instructs botanist. The monkey looks at him , SHRUGS in contempt, and pulls up the liana.

Bird Feeding Behaviour Adapting to Modern Environments

British wagtails have developed a new feeding technique. They lurk near petrol station forecourt - when car pulls into pumps they dash out and pick off the insects impaled on the bumper and grille

Bird Brains

All animals have instinctive behaviours, which make sense in the evolved environment. Cliff dwelling seagulls push out any rocks that fall into their nests; they retrieve any eggs that roll out. How do they decide what is a rock and what is an egg? Researchers found the gulls pushed out anything with sharp pointy corners. They identified rocks by feel, ignoring colour. But if an object was outside the nest they ignored shape, and simply retrieved anything that was same speckled brown colour of their eggs. So of course the sharp enquiring minds of the reearchers wanted to know how the birds would respond to a speckled brown cube. So put this evil "egg" in nest and this is what happens: first the gull pushes it out, because its got sharp edges. The it pulls it back into the nest because of the colour. This goes on forever; out of the nest and into the nest all day long. Looks stupid, but in natural environment, without mad scientists, the simple rules work perfectly: sharp-equals-stone, speckled-equals-egg.

Crows are Smart

The house crow population reached ten pairs; enough to constitute a significant threat to the Socotra specials. Attempts to trap them consistently failed; crows are smart. So the Socotra Archipelago Conservation and Development Programme, backed by Birdlife International, came up with a brainwave: get the children to do it. They offered a reward to any child bringing in a crow's nest full of young. It worked and the last few birds have just been shot.

More Smart Birds

British researchers, writing in the journal Evolution in November, described a species of birds in Africa's Kalahari Desert that appear to acquire food by running a "protection racket" for other birds. The biologists hypothesize that because drongo birds hang out at certain nests and squawk loudly when predators approach, the nest's residents grow more confident about security and thus can roam further away when they search for food - but with the hunters gone, the drongos scoop up any food left behind. (The researchers also found that drongos are not above staging false alarms to trick birds into leaving their food unguarded.)

Bird Empathy?

Two orphaned chough chicks have survived after a foster father (another clough) stepped in to rear them. For three weeks he fed them while they were in their nest on a cliff on the Lizard peninsula in Cornwall, and then taught them to fly. "We are not sure that this behaviour had ever been recorded in choughs before," an RSPB officer said. The bird may have been involved in the death of the father, in a fight over territory. It is thought that the female may have pined to death for her mate of 14 years. Choughs are on the amber conservation list and there are fewer than 500 breeding pairs in the UK.

Bird Mating Behaviour

Bird called the Grey Shrike which mates for life, but the boys also slip off for a bit on the side - his mates all get fed, but the 'wife' gets (low-cal) insects; the mistress gets lizards and small birds (diamonds for the lover; cubic zircons for the wife) (BTW do you know difference between a Jewish wife and an Italian wife? An Italian wife gets fake diamonds and real orgasms)

Animal Sex

Biologist Michelle Solensky, of Ohio's College of Wooster, reported late last year in the journal Animal Behavior that male monarch butterflies are such calculating inseminators that they even decide the optimal level of sperm necessary for reproductive advantage. While injecting fluid, the male can "selectively" determine how much of it will be fertility cells, depending on how much residual sperm the female holds from previous suitors (and thus to always inject more than the other guys did). Solensky told New Scientist magazine that the penis acts as a kind of "dip stick" to check the quantity already present. [New Scientist, 1-7-09]

Animal IgNobels

IgNobel prize to guy in Rotterdam working in museum with high glass windows which birds regularly crashed into. One day an unusually loud thud sent him outside to see a dead mallard duck lying on ground with another drake standing beside it. To his amazement the survivor mounted the dead bird and proceeded to mate enthusiastically with it, stopping only when chased away. He wrote it up in biological journal as first known case of homosexual necrophilia in mallards (IgNobles are awarded for research that couldn't, or shouldn't, be replicated)

Birdwatchers and Twitchers

British birdwatcher reported sighting rare Scandinavian robin (they get caught in storms; 15hr flight; pretty stuffed when arrive) - unfortunately his cat had just eaten it

Animal Status Symbols

Not just humans who covet status symbols A huge lobster guarding a watch ( a Citizen pulsar, still going) which had been in water at least 3 yrs

Ducks and Ducklings

Sideswipe pic of mother duck leading her ducklings. First pic she's stepping on to grating over storm drain, followed by her brood. Second pic she's across, she only has 1 duckling left and she's looking down the grating.

Animal Delayed Gratification

Delayed gratification - can teach orangutan to pick smaller bowl of food (for later reward) but not a chimp

Animals Can Count

Animals can count up to about 4 - (obvious survival value if know local lion pride has 4 members and you can only see 3) We know that even pre-language babies can count because they will stare longer at a 'surprising' number ie if they see 2 dolls put behind a screen but only 1 there when screen removed. Birds like crows can count - they will watch a farmer hide in ambush to shoot them - can't fool them by having 3 men go in and 2 come out, but you can bluff them if 4 go in and 3 come out

Male Dominance

Troop of baboons first studied 20 years ago - strongest and most aggressive males controlled a tourist resort garbage dump, where they managed to eat tainted meat which killed them. Left behind the females and the less aggressive males. A cultural swing towards affection and grooming was seen. Even though original survivors have died, replacements still maintain peaceful culture, suggesting that they learn the advantages from peers and elders

Insects

The blowfly looks and behaves a lot like its housefly cousin but has a distinctive blue, green, or black metallic sheen. While they are best known as noisy pests, blowflies can actually help solve murder cases and repair nasty injuries. Because female blowflies lay eggs on fresh cadavers almost immediately, forensic scientists can look for deposited eggs and newborn larvae to determine when a person died. In medicine, the fly's young offspring are sometimes used in "maggot therapy" to prevent infection of open wounds by selectively consuming dead tissue and secreting enzymes that kill bacteria.

Hedgehogs

Hedgehogs unique in that they don't bother to stop moving to defecate - so long tapered droppings up to 10m long, sometimes irridescent with chitin

Cloning Extinct Animals

Should scientists use Genetically Modified parasite to kill off possums? (70million possums in New Zealand predate young pohutokawa trees, birds eggs; infect deer and cattle with bovine TB) Which is the greater evil - destruction of native environment or a GM organism, presumably after testing and with appropriate safeguards

Lighter Conversation Starters

What separates us from all other animals is that we don't use our tongues to clean our genitals

Eagles may soar but weasels don't get sucked into jet engines

Save the whales - collect the full set
I love animals - they're delicious
My favourite animal is steak
All those collective names for animals - pride of lions school of fish rack of lamb
There's plenty of room for all god's creatures - right beside the mashed potato on my plate
I didn't rise to the top of the food chain to become a vegetarian

He thinks he's a goat - he's been like that since he was a kid
Wife does bird imitations - watches him like a hawk
Eat the dolphins - intelligent food for intelligent people
Animal testings awful - they always get the wrong answer
Calling all animal lovers - we wish to inform you that yr habits are illegal

My cockatiel died - we were playing badminton
What do you do with a bird with no wings? Take it for a spin
I really need a machine gun - take guess work out of duck shooting

Why do elephants have big ears? Noddy won't pay the ransom
What do you call a blind dinosaur? A doyouthinkhesaurus
What call a blind dino's dog? Doyouthinkhesaurus rex

Little boy in park getting pissed off at all pigeons hanging around "Fuck off Fuck off" he cries. A LOL (Little Old Lady) comes up to him and tells him quietly and calmly explains "They're just after your sandwiches. If you don't want them around, just say "Shoo! Shoo! - Then they'll fuck off"

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