Posts filed under ‘Animals’

Pigs, dogs and Big Brother

Gotta love these pigs. They are giving the finger to Big Brother, well, more their cute, wiggly tails. So we know that pets are implanted with RFID chips (usually under the skin between the shoulder blades in a dog or cat and providing the owner’s details together with information about the animal, which is logged onto a central database.) But RFID technology is also used for farm animals – to trace livestock through their life cycle. Microchip implants can identify an animal’s origin so if there is an outbreak of a disease, such as mad cow, the RFID-tracking system will identify the farm from which the animal carrying the disease came from. If you ask me, this is Animal Farm meets Big Brother. And one day, in the not too distant future, humans will be implanted with RFID chips and our daily activities and life-cycle will be tracked. But back to the pigs.

You’re about to watch a short video of smart pigs in Essex, UK. These pigs are equipped with (rather cumbersome) RFID-enabled collars that limit piggy’s food to a certain amount per day. The pig goes through a gate and the RFID collar works out how much food to dish out. You then see poor piggy looking sad that there is no more food as it leaves the feed chute area. But in a classic case of learned behaviour, some of the pigs have figured out the collar is the key to more food. And this is happening on a number of independent farms not just the one farm. Some pigs ditch the collars (yeah, they look uncomfortable) and other clever pigs come along, pick up the collar and…carry it to the feed gate a second time. So the animal that often ends up as bacon on the breakfast buffet is smart enough to make the mental connection between collar and more dinner and is teaching other pigs to subvert Big Brother.

And in another story of learned behaviour (this time without surveillance overtones) – have you heard about the Moscow dogs? Stray dogs have turned into canine commuters, using Moscow’s subway system to full advantage. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, many industries moved from Moscow into the surrounding suburbs and stray dogs used the industrial complexes as shelter and for food scavenging – so when industry moved, they moved too. What’s fascinating about this is that the dogs apparently work together, helping each other to learn the length of time they need to spend on a train to the suburbs; what stop to get off; and which carriages to travel in. And just like human commuters, they often take a nap on the train. There’s even a Russian website devoted to these metro dogs. Apparently, the dogs wait patiently on the station for the train to pull in and they have learned to use the traffic lights, crossing the streets with pedestrians. And they have learned innovative tactics to easily obtain food from humans. In the evenings, they hop on the train and return to Moscow. Check out this YouTube video – you can see the dog is snoozing, the announcement is saying the train is reaching a station; the dog stirs; looks around to see people are getting off; and calmly saunters out the door, ready for a day’s scavenging.

October 24, 2009 at 2:00 am 2 comments

Squirrel surprise

I thought I’d take time out today to bring you the funniest photo I’ve seen in ages. And it features the cutest looking squirrel. So a couple were having fun at Lake Minnewanka in Banff National Park, Canada and thought they’d take a holiday shot with the stunning lake as a backdrop. They set the timer on the camera, which was set up on some rocks, and made themselves camera ready….when…all of a sudden, up pops a ground squirrel. The squirrel was curious about the sound the camera was making and voila…the funniest photo:

If you ask me, that squirrel was just waiting for a camera to snap him – he looks very well groomed! What a fun shot to start our week.

Source: Telegraph UK

UPDATE: As this squirrel is now the most famous in the world, you might want to have your photo taken with him (or her). Go here – to The Squirrelizer.

August 16, 2009 at 2:00 am 2 comments

How curious!

Time to check out what curious, bizarre or downright strange things have been happening on this wonderful planet of ours.

First bat in space: You may have seen this tenacious bat clinging to the external fuel tank of the recently launched Spaceshuttle. Apparently, the bat had chosen the Shuttle as a roost. Bats have done this before but flown the coop before the Shuttle blasted off into space. Not so this brave bat, which caused NASA to be a tad concerned that it might disrupt the launch.

Well, the launch happened and still the bat clung on for dear life, one theory being that the poor thing (nicknamed Brian) had become frozen to the fuel tank as the cryogenic hydrogen and oxygen fuel was pumped into the tank. But apparently this wasn’t the case because the area the bat was clinging to did not reach below freezing point. The other theory (from a wildlife specialist) is that when g-forces took hold and the Shuttle was rattling and shaking as it took off, the creature fell off and died in the searing 1400°C exhaust of the throttling boosters. My theory? Brian wanted to be the first bat in outer space. Source: Universe Today

Vampire hunting: And speaking of bats, this is curiously gruesome – archaeologists digging around Venice have unearthed the 16th Century remains of a woman who people of that time believed was a vampire. The telltale sign? The huge brick lodged between the poor woman’s jaws. Fear of vampires (and ignorance about death) was so rife in that time period, a simple stake through the heart was not considered enough to finish off a vampire. So the brick in the jaws method was used to starve any vampire to death. Eewww!! Source: CBS News

Invented too early? Everyone’s favourite toy, the iPod, was invented in 2001. But perhaps not. Perhaps Britain invented the iPod in 1979. A pocket-sized portable music player, the IXI System, was invented by Kane Kramer, 23 years and James Campbell, 21 years. The device stored music in a chip, had a display screen and navigation buttons. Four prototypes were built but the device could only store 3.5 minutes of music. A fifth pre-production model actually went on sale at the APRS exhibition at Earls Court – London. Wouldn’t you love to be one of the people who bought one of them – imagine how much it might be worth now! Unfortunately for Kramer, his patent lapsed in 1988 and was possibly an invention way before its time. Source: and Wired.

Norris for Prez: If you don’t think having The Terminator, Arnold Schwarzenegger, as Governor of California is surreal enough, then think about Chuck Norris as “President of Texas”. Yes, folks, Norris has had a word or two with the Founding Fathers who have told him what America really stands for and he talks about America turning into a totalitarian country and how Americans won’t tolerate it. Of all the States of the US, I’d always place my bets on Texas to be the one to secede. If the GFC causes the US to spiral out of control, Norris is ready to seize the reins (or give a karate chop or two). So if you think all is lost in America and you want to rekindle the patriotic fires of early America – join one of the thousands of cell groups Norris and others are organising in Texas. If this doesn’t appeal to you, well you can go along to the Houston area and see Norris display that raw Texan fighting spirit in a national martial arts event called Showdown in H-Town. Source: WorldNetDaily.

March 29, 2009 at 2:00 am Leave a comment

Love from tragedy

No doubt you have heard about the tragic bushfires that blazed their way through townships in Victoria, Australia – leaving 181 people dead, although officials think the toll could climb to 300. Nine hundred homes have been razed to the ground in these “Hell on Earth” bushfires, which are the deadliest in Australian history. 7000 or so survivors are camping out in tents. All their treasured possessions up in smoke. Loved ones dead. I cannot begin to tell you how this has affected Australians.

There was a perfect storm on February 7 – sky high temperatures, the highest ever recorded in Melbourne (46.4C or 115.5F) and strong winds fanning the inferno, sending it hurtling towards the towns of Kinglake and Marysville. Families were caught with no time to flee because the fires moved with such speed. I’m sure to the people engulfed in these deadly fires it must have seemed like Armageddon. We live in the bush with a national park right behind us and it was about 44C on the same day where we live in New South Wales – so we were a tad nervous.

There’s a suggestion that some of the fires were lit by arsonists. If so, then I hope they are tracked down and prosecuted. Even our Prime Minister has uttered the phrase “mass murder”. You can donate money to the Victorian Bushfire Appeal. Last I read, donations had exceeded AU$100 million – Australians are at their best when there’s a tragedy like this and we need to pull together. The outpouring of generosity has been great to see.

Anyway, I don’t wish to dwell on all this because out of tragedy touching stories can emerge and ThinkingShift reader, Oohlala from Thailand, has alerted me to a great story.  You can read the full story here but in a nutshell this is what happened.

Two badly-burned koalas have fallen in love and a volunteer firefighter has been privileged to care for one of these koalas in its time of greatest need.  Sam is a female koala burnt in the Victorian blaze and disoriented. David Tree is a volunteer firefighter who came across Sam cowering in a burnt out forest area. From a plastic bottle, he gave Sam water as she placed her burnt paw in his hand. For those who know what koalas are like, this is a rare action for a koala to have such contact with a human. You can watch the video below but warning, it will bring you to tears. As Tree says:

“You can see how she stops and moves forward and looks at me. It was like a look saying “I can’t run, I’m weak and sore, put me out of my misery”.

Sam was then taken to an animal shelter where she fell in love with Bob, another poor koala who had been burnt in the inferno. One of the people at the shelter has said:

“They keep putting their arms around each other and giving each other hugs. They really have made friends and it is quite beautiful to see after all this. It’s been horrific”.

Both koalas are doing well and are a symbol of the courage and spirit of Australia in one of its darkest hours.  Thanks to Oohlala for telling me about this story.

UPDATE: Sam now has her own Facebook page.

February 14, 2009 at 2:00 am 3 comments

How curious!

I have collected some choice bits for ThinkingShift’s regular How Curious feature. So let’s kick off 2009 by looking at what bizarre, odd and curious things can happen in our world.

Beware the goat.  Seems Nigerian goats walk a fine line when it comes to the law. Police are holding a goat on suspicion of armed robbery (yes, really). Some people (perhaps smoking the wacky tobaccy) dragged a goat into a police station and mumbled things about black magic. They say an armed robber magically transformed himself into a goat to escape the long arm of the law. In a “what the?” moment, police have been quoted as saying: “We cannot confirm the story but the goat is in our custody. We cannot base our information on something mystical. It is something that has to be proved scientifically, that a human being turned into a goat.” Good luck proving that dudes. Source: Reuters.

Beware the alien octopus. Besides goats, you need to keep a watchful eye out for an alien octopus that may destroy a wind turbine near you soon. A wind turbine in Lincolnshire, England was hit by something mysterious in early January. One of its three 65 ft blades was totally mangled and left wilting. Officials have no explanation for what caused the mangling. UFO enthusiasts have their theories because bright orange spheres were seen in the area at the time. Could it have been destroyed by a many-tentacled alien, a meteorite, a plane? Personally, I’m going for the revenge of the bats theory. Source: Discover Magazine.

Sexual gorillas. Possibly this curious story could only happen  in Australia. A stern magistrate has issued a warning to a young driver accused of speeding. To quote the magistrate’s words of wisdom: “You’ll find big, ugly, hairy strong men (in jail) who’ve got faces only a mother could love that will pay a lot of attention to you — and your anatomy”. I bet that guy is no longer speeding! Source: Reuters.

Foiled by Thor. Should you wish to deter burglars, simply dress up as Thor, the god of thunder. A man was busy burglarising a home in Edinburgh, Scotland when he came face to face with the menacing Thor and fled. Well, actually a man returning from a New Year’s Eve party dressed as the Norse god (presumably this was a fancy dress gig and he doesn’t normally parade around as Thor). Source: BoingBoing


Squirrels come in purple. People were amazed when a purple squirrel was spotted in a village in Hampshire, UK. The squirrel hangs around the local school and has become something of a legend. I’m placing bets that the squirrel fell into a pot of paint whilst nosing around the school’s art class. But just because you’ve never seen a purple squirrel before doesn’t mean they don’t really exist! Source: The Telegraph

Beware the sandwich. Aside from goats and an alien octopus, you should also be wary of sandwiches. A UK woman regularly faints after eating sandwiches or fizzy drinks. After 10 years of fainting episodes and many medical tests, an unusual swallowing reflex has been blamed. Bubbles of gas from fizzy drinks or clumps of bread from sandwiches caused the woman’s heart to momentarily falter. She has now been fitted with a pacemaker and can happily attack sandwiches and fizzy drinks without fear of toppling over. Source: BBC News.

February 5, 2009 at 2:00 am Leave a comment

The environment and the Long Tail

Two quite unrelated but equally interesting topics to bring you in this post. I liked Chris Anderson’s The Long Tail – a new economic model applied to consumer consumption, which suggests that low demand/low sales items (or niche items) collectively make up a market share that rivals or exceeds the popular bestsellers. So for example you walk into a bookstore and you see thousands of books and think “ah, choice!”. But booksellers have limited shelf space and they offer only a small percentage of books that have the broadest possible appeal to readers. The majority of books are in the “long tail” with many different genres, obscure authors and appeal that don’t fit into the mass market. Anderson’s Long Tail (LT) theory examined online music retailers and suggested that the internet economy (with its vast choice of niche markets) would see a shift from the dominance of a relatively small market of mainstream products to the huge market of obscure products, businesses and an untapped audience. Because on the Internet, you need no shelf space. You can read his original article here.

A piece in The Times Online is challenging the LT theory. A study of digital music sales showed that more than 10 million of the 13 million tracks available on the internet failed to find a single buyer last year. So the suggestion is that the big hits still account for online sales success and that the niche music market remains largely untapped. The article doesn’t say what the source was for the data but reports that with the online singles market, 80% of all revenue came from around 52,000 tracks, whilst for the 1.23 million albums available, only 173,000 were bought, meaning 85% did not sell a single copy.

Meanwhile, an article in New Scientist also looks at studies that question Anderson’s theory, with Anita Elberse being one of the dissenters. You might have read Elberse’s Harvard Business Review article, which suggests that the LT isn’t fat with choice but is flat, thin and filled with more and more products that sell few or no copies.

Turning to environmental news, Discover Magazine showcased the top 100 environmental stories of 2008, many of which I blogged about such as the migration of plants due to climate change and the huge population of lowland gorillas discovered in Congo. Afraid many of these stories make for sobering reading.

January 8, 2009 at 2:00 am Leave a comment

ThinkingShift species watch

Some good news to bring you about the precious species we cohabit the planet with!

First up, Australian researchers have mapped the kangaroo genome. Researchers at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Kangaroo Genomics (KanGO) have been using the tammar wallaby as a model kangaroo for their project. Now, I’m sure you’d agree that kangaroos are cute looking and quintessentially Australian but why bother mapping kangaroo genome? Shouldn’t we be more worried about the current financial hissy fit? Well, scientists are saying that mapping the kangaroo genome will help us to better understand how the genome of mammals – including humans – is organised, how it functions, and how it evolved. So the kangaroo genome map could help to explore how mammals develop and ultimately reveal the secrets of the human genome. Go Skippy! Source: Science Daily.

Furbies are real! A group of small, furry furby-looking primates has been discovered (or rediscovered) in Indonesia after having not been spotted for 85 years. They are known as pygmy tarsiers, are about the size of a mouse and weigh less than two ounces or 57 grams. Scientists were busy trapping rats in the highlands of Sulawesi when they accidentally trapped some of these cute creatures. Two males and a female now sport radio collars so scientists can track their movements in the mossy, mountainous terrain of the area. Logging in the 1970s threatened the pygmy tarsier population. Hopefully, the cuties will now be protected. Source: National Geographic.

Two new species of “flying lemurs” have been found. Well, actually one species is now considered to be three distinct species. Known as colugos, flying lemurs are the closest living relatives to primates. Two colugo species, the Sunda colugo (Galeopterus variegatus) and the Philippine colugo (Cynocephalus volans) were thought to exist but scientists analysed the genetic material of Sunda colugos living on the Malay Peninsula and concluded that the genetic differences between the two species adds up to distinct species. So five million years ago, a split occurred and rising sea levels prevented travel between colugos living on the Malay Peninsula and those living on islands. So now we have the Sunda colugos living on the Malay Peninsula and species living on Borneo and Java. And there are distinctions in fur colour, patterns and size.  Source: msnbc

Common species of bats are fighting back in the UK. Species such as Soprano and Bandit Pipistrelles, Brown Long-eared bats and the Natterer’s bat have been spotted at habitats recorded by the National Trust for Scotland (NTS). Many bat populations have been in decline because of habitat destruction and threats to bats’ food supply. The NTS have 129 properties across the UK, which are offered as bat havens and it seems the conservation project is working with over 1,000 recent bat sightings. Source: BBC News.

A virtual planet of the apes has been discovered! More than 100,000 rare gorillas have been discovered in Congo. Living in swamp forest in northern Republic of Congo (on the outskirts of Lac Tele) the discovery doubles the number of the endangered primates thought to be clinging to life. A census conducted during the 1980s revealed only 100,000 gorillas were left on this planet. Their numbers had been plummetting due to hunting, poaching and exposure to human diseases such as Ebola. The discovery of this mother lode of gorillas is such great news. Let’s just hope the poachers and hunters lose their GPS. Source: CNN

And speaking of hunters. A German aristocrat (aka idiot, tosser) has been arrested in Namibia for slaughtering endangered zebra. Christian Prinz zu Hohenlohe-Langenburg, 28 years, who obviously has not read a single thing in his life about the cruelty of hunting is alleged to have killed zebra at a private game reserve owned by his father, 70 km from the capital, Windhoek. This idiot apparently knocked off several hundred of the beautiful creatures – for skins or food it’s not known. Under Namibian law, hunters may only kill eight mountain zebra a year, provided they have a permit.  But this dude wasn’t satisfied with eight. 193 carcasses have so far been dug up, having been buried by this goose across the farm. Throw the book at him! Source: Daily News.

November 25, 2008 at 2:00 am Leave a comment

The world through my eyes

My photography at the moment is still exploring geometry and space. But I have been sidetracked by canines. A great friend of mine has been in Greece for the last 5 weeks, leaving behind The Boys – two rough collie brothers. So I had to extend my skills to “dog portraits” and bung them on Flickr so my friend could periodically access from some airport terminal. In a bizarre twist, I ended up leaving messages under the photos as though the dog was speaking. I was sent a barrage of emails from Flickr friends asking if I had lost the plot. Possibly!  So today, some of my latest photographic efforts. Enjoy!

A rather fascinating wooden railing on a beach in Portugal. The warmth and textures of the wood was amazing.

Fabulously colourful beach tents – Portugal.

Well-worn wooden and metal seats in a public space in Sydney. For those in Sydney, can you identify where?

My first real attempt at a “dog portrait” but you can’t really go wrong when you have Lassie as your model!

And finally, a very hot dog leaping out of a fountain in Rome on a blisteringly hot day.

November 11, 2008 at 2:00 am Leave a comment

How to save $1 billion

If you are a Russian company thinking of putting an oil pipeline through say Lake Baikal in Southern Siberia in Russia, you might get a tad annoyed if heaps of protests cause you to shift the pipeline’s route costing you $1 billion.

But if you had looked up the Integrated Biodiversity Assessment Tool (IBAT), you would not have wasted $1 billion. IBAT is a new database that offers integrated up-to-date information on globally important biodiversity areas and legally protected sites, as well as detailed maps and data on endangered species.  Most conservation groups keep data of this sort but IBAT offers the first, integrated source, which is targeted at business. It will allow corporations to include conversation data from the start of project planning.

There is good coverage of information available with users being able to find data about individual parks, reserves, indigenous and communal areas. Sites considered globally important (protected or unprotected) are also identified, as well as areas that might contain vulnerable species.

If the Russian company had used IBAT, it would have discovered that Lake Baikal is home to four species of birds that are threatened, including the greater spotted eagle and the lesser white-fronted goose. It would also have found that the critically-endangered Siberian crane flies through the Lake Baikal area on its way to summer nesting grounds.

IBAT is a no brainer really. It will allow corporations to screen potential investment areas; develop considered action plans to address biodiversity impact; assess risks with investing in targeted areas; report on corporate social responsibility and bioversity performance.

Businesses need to register to use IBAT but from that point onwards, everything is anonymous and no records are kept. BHP recently used IBAT to check whether areas it was considering for exploration were ecologically sensitive, without alerting competitors to their interests in specific areas.

IBAT is the result of a conservation partnership between BirdLife International, Conservation International and the United Nations Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre. How smart is this partnership!!  It will be officially launched at the World Conservation Congress in Barcelona, which is being held as I blog.

Source: The Economist & IBAT

October 6, 2008 at 1:37 am Leave a comment

ThinkingShift species watch

I’ve been so consumed with privacy issues recently, I haven’t posted a Species Watch for some time. So let’s find out what’s happening to our planet’s precious birds and animals. A mixed bag of news really.

A Galapagos tortoise, Geochelone elephantopus, is extinct but relatives of this tortoise could be cross-bred and recreate the extinct species scientists believe. Geochelone elephantopus went kaput shortly after Charles Darwin visited the Galapagos. In fact, of the 15 known Galapagos tortoise species, 4 are now extinct thanks to whaling ships that would carry the tortoises off to be killed. The island of Floreana was where Geochelone elephantopus once lived and it was depleted the most by hunters. Tortoise relatives on the island of Isabela are genetically close to the Floreana lineage most likely because whaling ships discarded some tortoises in the waters and they swam to Isabela and bred with the tortoises there. Not sure how scientists plan to resuscitate Geochelone elephantopus but they believe it will take at least 100 years. ThinkingShift won’t be around then to report on whether Geochelone elephantopus has been brought back to life or not, but let’s hope!  Source: BBC News

Good news for the Galapagos tortoise. Not such great news for the northern spotted owl in the Washington area of the US. Over 10 years ago, logging was brought to a halt to protect the spotted owls, whose numbers were drastically falling. But despite the best of efforts, the spotted owl is teetering on the edge of extinction. Not only did logging threaten the owls but a tougher owl species in the area (the barred owl) is giving the spotted birds a hard time. The US Forest Service is rethinking strategies in order to save the owls, including shotgunning into extinction the other owl species. With dwindling population numbers, the owls are also in danger of inbreeding, which would further weaken their already depleted numbers. The northern spotted owl likes old growth forest and since that’s mainly be logged their habitat has been well and truly disrupted. They are also vulnerable to harsh winters and there is less old forest growth to protect them. Source: Seattle Times

It’s not only northern spotted owls that are being threatened. The planet’s population of common birds is in decline as a result of (you guessed it) loss of habitat through land-use changes. Birdlife International conducted a survey and found that 45% of Europe’s common birds are suffering falling numbers. And 80% of Australia’s wading species are being affected as well as 62% of Asia’s migratory water bird species. In Europe, an analysis of 124 species over a 26 year period revealed that 56 species had declined in 20 countries. Worse: the study highlighted that 1 in 8 of the world’s birds – 1,226 species – was listed as being Threatened. Of these, 190 faced an imminent risk of extinction. Global warming of course is also affecting birds’ wintering sites. Maybe I’m imagining it, but I recall my childhood full of bird noises. Not so much now. In Europe recently, in a forest area, I must admit I was surprised by the lack of bird calls. Very, very sad. Source: BBC News

Good news! The Amazon rainforest (despite being logged almost to death) still harbours unknown species, near Manaus. A blind, subterranean, predatory ant has been discovered and it’s such a bizarre species that the biologist, E.O.Wilson, says it could have come from Mars. Only one ant has been found and, in honour of Wilson, it has been dubbed Martialis heureka (the ant from Mars). It is 2-3 millimetres long, pale in colour, with a large mouth and no eyes. Because of these unique characteristics, the ant has been placed in its very own new subfamily of ants – the first since 1923. Well, if we could just stop chopping down the rainforests of the Amazon, who knows what other undiscovered species might be found. Source: New Scientist

October 2, 2008 at 2:00 am Leave a comment

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