Friday, June 30, 2006

Elephants Get World Cup Fever Too

The mighty "Elephants" of the Ivory Coast may have departed the World Cup in Germany, but with the tournament about to enter its quarter final stage, a group of the giants in Thailand are still in the grip of football fever. At a tourist park outside the city of Chiang Mai, the eight, quick-footed elephants have had their faces painted in the colours of Germany, Italy, Spain and Brazil and are competing in a fortnight long tournament. The rules of their brand of football are very simple, the organiser explained. While one member of the elephant duo stands in goal the other attacks using either its front or rear feet to kick the jumbo-sized ball. "We had elephant football matches during the previous World Cup four years ago, and we found tourists really like it," the camp's director Anchalee Kalmapichit said. Let's hope they behave with a little more decorum than some of the teams in the real tournament have done in recent days.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Ultimate Party Animals - Part II

A group of pelicans have been taken into custody in California - under suspicion of being inebriated in public.
The birds revealed they might be under the influence when one of them crashed through the windshield of a car in Laguna Beach. The other three were found wandering around the town in a drunken haze. The Los Angeles Times reported that "after the pelicans being held in Huntington Beach have sobered up, they will be released on their own recognizance". The most likely explanation for the behaviour is demoic acid, a substance that can be absorbed from algae in water. It's not the first time this has happened in the area. Forty years or so ago, a similar incident was - apparently - the inspiration for Alfted Hitchock's classic movie The Birds.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

If You Go Down To The Woods Today: How Bears Are Springing Some Big Surprises

Across North America and Europe, bears are emerging from their five to seven month long hibernations - and straight into the headlines. With their normal habitats increasingly short of the resources they need to survive in the wild, the giant creatures are turning to human communities to get the bear necessities of life - food, shelter and a little entertainment. The result is the recent spate of bearly believable stories flying around the media.
In Vancouver, Canada, for instance, newspapers have reported how a woman walked into her kitchen to discover a two-year-old bear doing an impersonation of Goldilocks. The bear had got into the house via a sliding door and was helping itself to some oatmeal in the kitchen. According to the BBC news report on the unusual housebreak , the young bear extracted the oatmeal from a ceramic container. Even more impressively, he ate the meal calmly then - watched by armed police who had been summoned by the home-owner - casually wandered back into the woods with his appetite sated.
Not all bears are after food - some just want a little fun. In New Jersey, a family looked out into their garden to discover a bear in their hammock. Unfazed, they managed to make a home video of the intruder. The video, available via a BBC link here reveals that bears - like humans - can get themselves in a terrible tangle trying to climb into the swinging beds.
Of course, entering human territory carries risks. An amazing AP photograph published in full here, shows what happened when a black bear was confronted by a tabby, domestic cat. Clearly some bears aren't as terrifying as others.
By far the most entertaining bear to have emerged from the woods this Summer, however, is the first brown bear to have been seen in Bavaria, southern Germany in a century. Bruno, as he has been christened by the local media, has become a cause celebre across the country, with websites devoted to tracking his movements and an ebay auction of some turf embedded with his footprints. Despite leaving a trail of dead sheep, chickens and rabbits in his wake, Bruno has managed to evade hunters from a zoo in Munich. He has also made the police look pretty stupid too. A few days ago a Bavarian spotted him sitting directly outside a police station. But by the time the hapless officers had realised he was there, Bruno had slipped away again. Now teams of bear-hunters from as far afield as Finalnd have been called in. Ordinary Germans hope Bruno remains on the loose. In fact they are rooting for the bear almost as strongly as they are for their national team in the World Cup currently being held there.

Monday, June 12, 2006

The Dark Secret Your Cats Don't Want You To Know: At Night They're Serial Killers

Whisper it quietly, but you may have Jack The Ripper living under your roof. New figures released in the US reveal that while they may look like cute kitties, domestic cats are in fact sophisticated, cold and extremely prolific killers.
In America alone, cats kill a staggering one BILLION mammals and HUNDREDS of millions of birds a year, mostly after dark. Cats are so prolific in parts of the country they have reduced some birds to the status of endangered species. Action to rein in these killer kitties is already being taken in some states where cats are confined to quarters at night time. For a glimpse of how smooth and deadly a killer a cat can be, have a look at this new National Geographic film about how a mild-mannered puss called Molly is transformed into a deadly assassin by night.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Dracula Birds: Why Bats Aren't Nature's Only Vampires

The word vampire conjures up images of Transylvanian castles, Christopher Lee as a blood-soaked Count Dracula and - most of all - bats. Yet, scientists are discovering that the winged mammals are far from the only creatures to exist on a red-blooded diet. One East African spider, for instance, has acquired a taste for human blood. So it specifically targets another blood-sucking creature, the mosquito, for its meals. Elsewhere, the lamprey is the marine world’s equivalent of the vampire. The eel-like fish hunts trout and other smaller species. Once it has its target in sight it sinks its teeth into the soft tissue and begins sucking out its victim's body fluids. Perhaps the most bizarre vampires, however, are the small, but deeply devious finches that live on the Galapagos islands. During the dry season the birds attach themselves to the wings of larger, slow-witted birds, like the booby, then sneakily peck away until they draw blood. Amazingly, as this National Geographic film of the blood-sucking birds shows, the finches feast away undisturbed, even managing to open up gaping wounds without being ejected. Clearly the booby - along with the Dracula birds' other victims - needs to add a little garlic to its diet.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Pyow Pyow Hack Hack Hack - That's Monkey For "Let's Get The Hell Out Of Here"

Male monkeys talk in sentences, scientists have just revealed. And the most common phrase they use is a loud, five-part call that basically means "let's get the hell out of here". The scientists from the University of St Andrews, spent many months observing the putty-nosed monkeys in Nigeria. They discovered that both the males and females of the group used the distinctive sounds "pyow" and "hack" in a variety of situations. But in times of particular danger the males used a five-part combination of the sounds - "pyow pyow hack hack hack". The monkeys used it most often when instructing their group members to run away from the threat of their most dangerous predator, the leopard. But intriguingly they also used the phrase when they wanted their fellow monkeys to head off in search of food or to find somewhere to sleep in the evenings. The scientists concluded the phrase is a multi-purpose one, used by the male leaders to move the group to safer or more food-rich territory. Their full conclusions were reported in Nature