(This column was first published in the November 11, 2002 issue of The Buffalo News.)
Guillaume Chapron, a doctoral student at the Ecole Normale Superieure in Paris, manages the Carnivore Ecology and Conservation website, a remarkably thorough and up-to-date reference on carnivorous mammals. The website items are drawn from newspapers around the world. Here, for example, are a few of those stories that struck my fancy -- with my titles added.
Are You Sure This Isn't Lancaster?
Gangs of masked nocturnal thieves are stalking whole neighborhoods in northern Germany's towns and cities. Unusually strong and agile, they jump onto roofs from treetops and climb along drainpipes. But they are not out to steal cars or burgle apartments -- they rummage through compost heaps, overturn rubbish bins and steal pet food. They are raccoons -- thousands of them. They are leaving their natural habitat near German streams and lakes in droves to make a home in towns and cities, were food, water and shelter are easy to find.
Beats Me As Well
A Californian sea lion called Rio impressed American researchers by remembering a complicated trick for ten years without practicing it once -- a feat they said showed sea lions probably have the best memory of all non-human creatures.
Good News, Bad News on the Research Front
Success followed by sudden heartbreak befell researchers this summer at a remote outpost in the Peruvian Amazon. The researchers, who are conducting the first detailed study of the elusive short-eared dog, spent three years trying to capture one in the wild. Very little is known about the extremely rare canine's habits. They finally succeeded in August, capturing a dog on the edge of the Alto Purus Reserved Zone, a recently protected area of the Amazon in southeastern Peru. It was fitted with a collar and released. Two weeks later, the dog was shot and killed by a Sharanahua subsistence hunter.
No Wonder They Sent Us the Zebra Mussel
The water vole is a popular animal, the chunky aquatic vegetarian immortalized as Ratty in Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in The Willows, but it has been all but wiped out by a small but deadly carnivore brought into Britain 70 years ago for the fur trade. American mink established themselves in the wild in Britain after escaping from fur farms, which have now been banned. They began to breed in the late 1950s, spreading out from Devon across the country.
Motherly Love? Well, Almost
Africa's most popular wildlife star in recent months has been a lioness from Samburu National Reserve in northern Kenya that cuddles up to baby antelopes that she should be dismembering for lunch. The sight of a full-grown lion at the side of a newborn antelope -- she has adopted five antelopes this year -- has attracted hordes of tourists. Fears for the lioness' sanity may now have been put to rest, however. She finally ate one of her adoptees, a kill that turned delighted stares from her audience of tourists into anguished grimaces.
And the Winner is...
Dirty diapers are disgusting and rotten eggs smell rancid -- but skunks really stink! Skunks led the list of the bad odors in a light-hearted U.S. survey sponsored by Renuzit, Dial's air freshener unit, with 59.7 percent of respondents rating it a six, the stinkiest rating. Rotten eggs came in second at 47.2 percent, dirty diapers received 45.1 percent, bathroom odors were fourth at 37.9 percent and dairy farm smells were fifth at 31.6 percent. Also receiving write-in votes: "politics" and "the guy I have to work with".
If you wish to keep current about international news regarding carnivores, you cannot beat this fine website.-- Gerry Rising