Panda Grieves After Crushing Cub

A panda at a zoo in China is inconsolable afer accidentally killing her baby.

BEIJING – Staff at a zoo in southwest China are in mourning after a sleep-deprived panda dropped her two-day-old baby and crushed it to death, local media reported on Friday.

“It was very sudden, but also unavoidable,” Guo Wei, panda department chief at Chongqing city zoo in the southwestern region of Chongqing, told the Chongqing Business News daily.

Ya Ya, a seven-year-old panda and new mother of twins, “appeared tired” when nursing the younger cub in a patch of grass, the paper said.

Her head sagged, her paws separated and her baby fell to the ground next to her. The panda then rolled on to her side and crushed her baby beneath her.

The tragedy occurred because she hadn’t slept or eaten properly since giving birth, Guo said, adding that Ya Ya lacked motherhood experience.

According to Guo, the zoo had tried on several occasions to separate the cub from its mother for their safety, but Ya Ya “was very cautious” and would “roar and bare her teeth” at zoo-keepers.

The elder of the twins was in good health and being cared for, zoo officials said.

But Ya Ya had proved inconsolable, wailing and looking for her baby after its body was taken away from her.

“Pandas who lose their young tend to be depressed for a month or so,” Guo said, adding that the zoo would assign people to care for her and provide special food to improve her mood.

[MSNBC: Panda Crushes New-Born Cub]

A Foxy Problem in the UK

BBC News has two stories about the growing fox problem in the U.K.

From 2001, Urban fox hunt [warning: photos may be disturbing] describes how “foxes — once mostly confined to the countryside — are becoming almost as common in cities as stray cats.” Their increasing numbers are causing clashes between those who believe they’re harmless and those who believe they’re a nuisance.

About one in seven foxes are now townies.

Most live in leafy outer suburbs, but more and more are heading for city centres with sightings at places like Buckingham Palace Gardens and the House of Lords.

Many homeowners are welcoming the new arrivals by leaving out food and milk on their back lawns.

But others complain that foxes are digging up their gardens, fouling their lawns, attacking their pets and ripping open their garbage bags.

All of this is proving a big boom for pest control firms like the one run by Bruce Lyndsay-Smith, who says foxes are now bigger business than rodents.

Apparently the problem has not abated in the past five years. A second article describes how one couple spent hundreds on fox bane. They’ve tried chicken wire and ultra-sonic devices, but nothing has worked.

RIP Crocodile Hunter

It’s always startling to discover which celebrity deaths affect me. Ronald Reagan? “He was so old, man.” River Phoenix? Meh. But Steve Irwin, the crocodile hunter? My heart aches.

But why? I never watched anything the guy ever did. I always thought he was kind of goofy. But somewhere deep inside, I admired Irwin’s spirit, his enthusiasm, his vocation. He was a man living his dream.

And so when I read the news of Irwin’s death last night, I went to bed in a funk. I dreamt of wild animals. I woke still sad.


Killer Raccoons Dining on Neighborhood Cats

OLYMPIA, Washington — A fierce group of raccoons has killed 10 cats, attacked a small dog and bitten at least one pet owner who had to get rabies shots, residents of Olympia say.

Some have taken to carrying pepper spray to ward off the masked marauders and the woman who was bitten now carries an iron pipe when she goes outside at night.

“It’s a new breed,” said Tamara Keeton, who with Kari Hall started a raccoon watch after an emotional neighborhood meeting drew 40 people. “They’re urban raccoons, and they’re not afraid.”

Here are three articles about rampaging raccoons in Washington state:

I think the latter is the best of the three articles, and I’ve drawn the following excerpt from it:

The neighbors hired trapper Tom Brown, a nuisance wildlife control operator from Rochester.

Brown said of the raccoons, “They are in command up there.”

He said he’s seen packs this big, but none so into killing. There was one in Rochester that killed a peacock last winter and another in Grand Mound that killed three chickens. But nothing like this.

Brown said there is an overabundance of food in the area with many fruit trees.

“And the good folks feed them. They’re cute as a bug’s ear,” he said, adding, “I wouldn’t mind being a raccoon up there.”

Normally, Brown said, he can fix a problem in a few weeks, but he has set traps there for six weeks and caught only one.

“It was with sardines and cat food,” he said. “For bait, I use what they’ve been feeding them.”

Brown said he hasn’t trapped more because raccoons are intelligent. They teach their young, the same as beavers do. He said one big male boar is the main killer, and he’s tasted blood, and he wants more. He’s usually helped by one or two others.

“The boar’s likely been in a live trap before,” Brown said.

Carrell added: “It’s highly unlikely you will ever trap him again, and he’ll teach the others to stay away.”

Brown said he’s going to back off for a while until the food supply dries up.

“Then they’ll be a little less persnickity,” Brown said.

He said his goal is to make them feel uncomfortable. Until that happens, they aren’t likely to leave.

“We have our favorite restaurants; they have their favorite routes,” he said.

Also of interest:

[via Metafilter]

Free Lectures on Animal Behavior

UC Berkeley offers a number of its courses available online for free download via the iTunes Music Store. One of these courses is IB 31: Animal Behavior taught by Roy Caldwell.

This course, which is provided as a podcast, features lectures with titles such as:

  • Behavioral Genetics
  • Is Personality Heritable?
  • Social Insects
  • Sexual Selection
  • Parent-Offspring Interactions
  • Communication: Do Animals Tell Lies?
  • Interspecific Communication and Mimicry
  • Migration and Navigation
  • The Adaptive Nature of Learning

I haven’t listened to these lectures yet, but I’ve added this as my next podcast. (I’m nearly finished listening to a series of podcasts related to personal finance.)

Feral Children and Animal Intelligence

When considering animal intelligence, I also include the fascinating tales of feral children.

Feral children are those who, for whatever reason, have been raised outside the confines of normal human behavior. Most often they find themselves abandoned in the wilderness at a young age. Sometimes they are raised by other animals — monkeys, wolves, etc. — other times they fend for themselves. Two famous examples from fiction are Mowgli (of Kipling’s The Jungle Book) and Burrough’s Tarzan of the Apes.

(Sadder, but just as interesting, are the class of wild children who, due to neglect, are raised feral.)

What are these children like as adults? Are their thought-processes the same as those raised in a standard human society? How do they adjust to the “real world”? How does their relationship with the natural world change once they’ve been assimilated into society? And how does the way these feral children live influence our understanding of animal intelligence? features a long list of children raised by animals, such as Kamala and Amala, the wolf girls of Midnapore. Or The lobo wolf girl of Devil’s River.

For more on this subject, read Genie: A Scientific Tragedy and Savage Girls and Wild Boys: A History of Feral Children. The wikipedia also has a good article on feral children.

About Animal Intelligence

I’m back from vacation, and have just posted the following as this site’s “about” page.

This is a weblog about animal intelligence. Its premise is that the birds and beasts are smarter than most people credit, that they’re capable of leading rich emotional lives.

I do not believe that animals possess human intelligence. That is not to say that humans are smarter (though this may be true), but that each type of animal has its own thought processes, its own means of evaluating the world. Comparing intelligence across species is a tricky thing.

A couple of important notes:

  • I am not a vegetarian.
  • I am not an animal-rights activist.

Though I respect both camps, these are not choices I have made for myself. (Though I toy with the idea of vegetarianism.) How do I reconcile my personal choices with my belief that animals are intelligent? I don’t. Cognitive dissonance, my friend, cognitive dissonance. (And an uncomfortable thing it is, too, especially each January when my wife and I hold our annual Ham Feast.)

Animal Intelligence will feature copious quantities of animal stupidity, too. And, because I think it’s a similar topic, I’ll mention feral children from time-to-time. (See the entry coming Monday.)

Basically, if it’s about animals, I’ll publish it. Send me your stuff! If you find something that would work well on this site, drop me a line.


Nine days into this blog and I’m already taking a vacation? Sad but true. I’m off to San Francisco for ten days. I’ll be back with more tales of smart animals on the 21st.

Go East, Young Man

The following passage is excerpted from Go East, Young Man, the autobiography of William O. Douglas, the longest-serving Supreme Court justice in United States history. This episode probably occurs during the mid-1930s in central Washington state.

As Prairie House was being built, I spent my time planting the meadow around the house and watering it. This was land that my predecessor had cleared of pine and fir. Soil in these forests was notoriously poor, so I decided to sow white clover. In that way I would build nitrogen into the soil and attract a wide variety of grasses that elk and deer love.

One day as I sowed the seed I heard the baying of hounds on American Ridge to the north. Before long I felt something touch my leg, and turning, I saw a doe deer standing close to me. Her eyes were dilated, she was breathing heavily, and she dripped with perspiration. Obviously she was near exhaustion, and she had come to a man for help. I had heard of such things before but had never believed them.

I hesitated but a second, and then depositing my bag of seed on the ground, said to the deer, “Come with me,” and I started walking the half-mile or so to Bumping River. She kept at my heels like a puppy dog. When we reached the river I gave her a pat on the rump; she entered the water and slowly swam to the opposite shore, where she stopped, looked back as if to say good-by, and entered a stand of alder. In an instant the dogs had arrived, baying frantically as they tried to find the scent that had disappeared at the river’s edge.

William O. Douglas was a brash, opinionated man, and a womanizer. He was also a great champion of the First Amendment, of individual rights. He was an avid outdoors-man, exploring the Pacific Northwest (and other parts of the U.S.) on foot, on horseback, and on train. He loved the varied life he found, both plant and animal.

Douglas was an ardent conservationist.