Archive for the ‘Animals’ Category

Fast Break Parrots

September 2, 2009 Leave a comment

Check out the video above, courtesy of Companion Birds. I learned about it from Avi Zenilman’s post at the New Yorker blog this morning. He in turn gives a hat tip to GrrlScientist, who regard the video as a demonstration of “patience combined with excellent animal training techniques.”

My favorite sequence starts at the 20 second mark. I love how Hannah, the red Eclectus, gets down the court on offense in support of her teammate Gustav. Gustav chooses not to pass, but Hannah’s ready. Great example of movement without the ball.

Categories: Animals, Sports

Tuesday, Service Dog

July 19, 2009 Leave a comment


Having slammed the WSJ in my previous post for the people they choose to put on their op-ed pages, I’ll now give an example of one thing I love about the WSJ: their daily front page feature articles. One such article, a week ago, was about psychiatric-service dogs, focusing on Tuesday, the companion to Iraqi war vet Luis Carlos Montalvan. (See also the accompanying video. It doesn’t explain as much, but you do get to see Tuesday in action.)

One small quote from the article:

Tuesday is with Mr. Montalvan at all hours. Taught to recognize changes in a person’s breathing, perspiration or scent that can indicate an imminent panic attack, Tuesday can keep Mr. Montalvan buffered from crowds or deliver a calming nuzzle. Other dogs, typically golden retrievers, Labradors or Labrador retriever blends, are trained to wake masters from debilitating nightmares and to help patients differentiate between hallucinations and reality by barking if a real person is nearby.

“Tuesday is just extraordinarily empathetic,” said Mr. Montalvan, 36 years old, a retired Army captain who received a Purple Heart for wounds he suffered in Iraq. “In bad moments, he’ll lay his head on my leg, and it’ll be like he’s saying, ‘You’re OK. You’re not alone.'”

Categories: Animals, Newspapers

Giraffe Teleology

July 16, 2009 Leave a comment


A five-day-old baby giraffe was introduced to the public yesterday at The Safari in Ramat Gan, Israel. (The Safari, as the website explains, is the combination of an African animal park and the former Tel Aviv Zoo. It “is the largest animal collection in the Middle East and is unique in the world, because of the large herds of mixed species of African animals that roam the spacious African Park.”) There’s a good slide show of the giraffe here.

Some of the photos impressed upon me the point that the baby was born at just the right height to reach under her mother Denisa and get milk. How about that! It’s enough to make you believe in intelligent design. Then again, I suppose giraffe mothers could have been designed to lie on their sides while nursing, allowing for shorter babies.

(HT: The Daily Dish)

Categories: Animals


June 9, 2009 5 comments


Archimedes the ship, not Archimedes the great Greek mathematician and scientist of 2200 years ago. Not that I knew of Archimedes the ship until Gail and I stumbled upon it two evenings ago. We decided to take a walk after dinner, and headed northwards out of our neighborhood into the Arboretum, crossing over the footbridge onto Foster Island and then continuing northwards, through the pedestrian tunnel under Highway 520, and on to the northernmost point of the island, where it oversees Lake Washington to the east, Laurelhurst to the northeast, Union Bay to the north, the University of Washington athletic facilities to the northwest, and the Montlake Cut due west. Just as we were approaching that northernmost point, to our astonishment, the prow of a giant blue ship broke into our field of vision past a stand of trees. What was so striking and unexpected was how high off the water the prow was. And then more and more of the ship appeared, like it would never end, akin to the appearance of the Star Destroyer in Star Wars.

When the stern finally went past, we could see that the ship was indeed Archimedes, based out of Hamilton, Ontario. I speculated, naturally, that maybe its owner was heading across Lake Washington to drop in on Bill Gates. Or farther south on the lake to see Paul Allen.

Only yesterday morning did I think to look the ship up on google. I was led to a site — — that seems to be set up to track the comings and goings of all the large private yachts in the world. People write in when they see a ship, saying where it is, and then you can track its movements. At the site for Archimedes, I learend that it is 219 feet (67 m) long, built just last year by Feadship, with architect De Voogt and stylist John Munford. Here are some of the places where it’s been:

October: Long Island
December: Fort Lauderdale
January: St. Thomas
March: Costa Rica, then San Diego
April: San Francisco
May: Redwood City
May 13: spotted coming through the Ballard Locks to Union Bay in Seattle
June 7: we saw it
June 8: Seattle, then Lopez Island
June 9 (today): San Juan Island

Reading through the entries at the site, one finds lots of rumors about its ownership. When it was seen on Long Island, Jim Simons (mathematician and financier, Renaissance Technologies hedge fund) was mentioned. Then Johnny Depp, Paul McCartney, Bill Gates, Paul Allen. I suppose none of this can be taken too seriously.

Archimedes isn’t the only large object we spotted. After seeing it go by, we sat down on a bench, and a minute later Gail noticed an eagle sitting calmly about 100 feet up in a tree that was about 50 yards away from us. Foster Island has had a nesting pair of eagles for years, so the presence of an eagle there isn’t a surprise. Ten days ago or so I was sitting out in the backyard when an eagle flew by overhead, not too far above, and seconds later a second one followed in the same path. Still, catching sight of the eagle just sitting there, sharing our view, was a surprise. I wonder what the Eagle thought of Archimedes.

Categories: Animals, Big Ships, Math

Why Cats?

May 31, 2009 1 comment


The June issue of Scientific American has an article about the evolution of house cats. The scientific issue at the heart of it is the determination of which of several populations of wildcats around the world the domestic cat descended evolved from. Could domestication have occurred in parallel from wildcat populations in different regions, or did the domestic cat come from a single population and then spread around the world?

The answer was found through DNA analysis and published two years ago. Domestic cats come from a single population in the Middle East. When domestication began and why are also discussed in the article, though with less certain results. The passage below highlights the mystery of why cats would be candidates for domestication.

Cats in general are unlikely candidates for domestication. The ancestors of most domesticated animals lived in herds or packs with clear dominance hierarchies. (Humans unwittingly took advantage of this structure by supplanting the alpha individual, thus facilitating control of entire cohesive groups.) These herd animals were already accustomed to living cheek by jowl, so provided that food and shelter were plentiful, they adapted easily to confinement.

Cats, in contrast, are solitary hunters that defend their home ranges fiercely from other cats of the same sex (the pride-living lions are the exception to this rule). Moreover, whereas most domesticates feed on widely available plant foods, cats are obligate carnivores, meaning they have a limited ability to digest anything but meat—a far rarer menu item. In fact, they have lost the ability to taste sweet carbohydrates altogether. And as to utility to humans, let us just say cats do not take instruction well.

The article also notes that there’s not a lot of variation in cats, in contrast to that other common human companion.

Unlike dogs, which exhibit a huge range of sizes, shapes and temperaments, house cats are relatively homogeneous, differing mostly in the characteristics of their coats. The reason for the relative lack of variability in cats is simple: humans have long bred dogs to assist with particular tasks, such as hunting or sled pulling, but cats, which lack any inclination for performing most tasks that would be useful to humans, experienced no such selective breeding pressures.

So why do cats live with us? What’s in it for them? What’s in it for us? The article touches on this briefly, but the answer remains a puzzle.

Categories: Animals, Culture

Baby Farasi

March 29, 2009 Leave a comment


Before tossing two weeks of Wall Street Journals yesterday, I made sure to take a look at each one’s daily front page feature article, thereby stumbling on the March 13 feature story about the Basel Zoo’s baby hippo Farasi, pictured above with his mother. It’s a troubling story, the main problem being that when Farasi matures, he will not be able to stay in Basel, since there’s no room for more than one male hippo and he will become a competitor to his dad. For the same reason, other zoos will not be keen to adopt him. As the article explains, surplus mammals, especially meaty ones such as hippos, generally are killed and then fed to the lions.

I should add that this is a European zoo issue, not an American one. Here in the US, the animals are generally on the pill, to avoid this problem. In Europe, reproduction is considered part of a normal life:

European zoos say sex, pregnancy and parenting are fundamental needs. “A chimpanzee spends 24 hours a day with its young for four years,” says Robert Zingg, chief curator of Zurich Zoo, which works closely with Basel Zoo. “How do you replace that?”

So why am I posting this depressing story, beyond just taking the opportunity to post a cute baby picture? Well, for one, I used to spend a lot of time at the Basel Zoo, during a brief period of my life in which I found myself in Basel regularly. It’s one of Europe’s great zoos. And for another, I liked the metaphor at the end of the passage below.

It’s extremely difficult to find a hippo a home. Farasi’s bigger sister Heidi found a home in 2002 only after a hippo at the Dublin zoo choked to death on a tennis ball lobbed into its pen by a visitor. “It’s especially difficult to find a home for a male hippo because you can only have one per zoo,” says Christian Wenker, Basel’s chief vet. Hippos also live to be in their 50s, so the lucky male in any zoo is like an old man in a rent-controlled apartment.

Plus, there’s this drawing:


Categories: Animals


March 29, 2009 Leave a comment


I can’t resist posting today’s Get Fuzzy comic strip. I don’t generally read Get Fuzzy, or any other comic strip, but thanks to Mark Liberman at Language Log , I’m alerted to the strips that deal with language. As Liberman notes, “In today’s Get Fuzzy, Bucky’s exploration of English compound-noun semantics continues.” Bucky is Bucky Katt. See here for more background on Bucky and on his housemate, the melancholy Satchel Pooch.

Categories: Animals, Language

Cats and Dogs

March 2, 2009 Leave a comment


Joel brought to my attention this afternoon a wonderful post by a blogger named Sarah Marchildon, a Canadian woman now studying at Kyoto University. In the post, Sarah describes a visit to a cat cafe in Osaka. She notes at the beginning that it’s “more of a cat brothel than a cat cafe,” and her description brings out the aptness of this. Here’s part of her description:

The cafe is called Neko no Jikan 猫の時間 (or “Cat Time” in English). The 20 cats that work here have free range of the place, sitting and sleeping wherever they like.

The cafe consists of two large rooms. There is the cafe area, which is exactly what it sounds like. There are couches and small tables where you can sip a cup of coffee while a cat sleeps on your lap or at your feet. It is a cozy space with soft lighting and classical music playing quietly in the background.

The other room, attached to the cafe, is best described as a cat playroom. No drinks are allowed in this room. You can play with the cats or just sit on one of the many couches and watch all of the four-legged loving go down.

Be sure to go to the post to see the photos.

To ensure fair and balanced pet coverage, I’m throwing in a video featuring Bizkit the sleep-walking dog.

Categories: Animals, Culture, Travel

Introducing Henry Sofie

March 1, 2009 Leave a comment


Last month I wrote about the loss of Jessica’s cat Peter Sofie. Since then, she has been spending some time looking at shelter cats as candidates for adoption. This culminated in her decision to adopt Henry, and two days ago Gail went with her to bring Henry home. Following my birthday dinner last night, Jessica drove Joel back to her condo and Gail and I drove up there so we could all see him.

Following the shelter’s instructions, Jessica is keeping Henry confined to the bathroom for a few days so he can become accustomed to the surroundings without having too much new space within which to roam. But with all of us there, she brought him out so he could see us. He’s very comfortable with strangers. Gail and Joel each took turns holding him, we all petted him, and he purred continuously. At one point, he got down and explored the living room a bit, heading for the door to the balcony, running behind the couch, getting into some bags, lying under the dining table. Ultimately he came to rest in the entry space between the living room, bedroom, and bathroom, where he flopped on his side and his back, seeming quite relaxed. I took the photo above at this point. He then went back into the bathroom on his own and we left.

Welcome, Henry.

Categories: Animals, Family


February 10, 2009 1 comment


Stump, the 10-year-old Sussex Spaniel, was judged best of the Sporting Group earlier this evening at the Westminster Kennel Club 133rd Annual Dog Show, then judged Best in Show. A worthy champion. A wildly popular choice. A great back story. (Best in group also in 2004, fell mysteriously ill early in 2005, near death, saved by staff at Texas A&M, returned to health, back in competition, oldest best-in-show winner in history.) What more is there to say?

Categories: Animals, Sports