By Mark Ambrose Harris | The Lost Boys December 22, 2011 at 11:46AM
This is part of a series of year end lists here on The Lost Boys this week... Check back for more, and enjoy Mark's top 10 animal stories of 2011 below:
When I’m not writing about music, books, or smut, I give in to my nerd tendencies and go animal. If ever there’s breaking fauna news, I co-author a tumblr/blog called Running With Sharks. This is where I write about the wonders of the natural world, which can be terrifying, awe-inspiring, or downright hilarious. Moths living on a diet of blood, voter electoral lists including cats on their registries, and people dying from injuries inflicted by armed roosters during illegal cockfights—these are all stories that appeared on the blog.
In reading through my posts from the last year, I’ve selected my Top 10 animal stories from Running With Sharks.
The year in animal news started with a bang—Heyo! Puns!—when, on January 14, 2011, a hunter in Belarus was captured by the game, so to speak. While this story sounds like a dream from the land of animal revenge dreams, it actually happened, which makes my heart swell like a tapeworm. In Belarus, a hunter shot and wounded a fox. When he tried to finish off the animal by bludgeoning it to death with the butt of his riffle, the arch-enemies got into a tussle, and the fox somehow shot the hunter in the leg. The hunter is now recovering in the hospital. The fox escaped into the woods, and it’s most probably plotting an even more elaborate retaliation.
On March 28, news broke that a deadly, juvenile Egyptian cobra was missing from an off-exhibit enclosure at the Bronx Zoo. You’re probably aware that cobras are generally teeming with venom, so locating the reptile in a speedy manner was top priority. That same day, the cobra apparently started its own Twitter feed, and tweeted hilarious updates about its whereabouts. Hell-bent on sightseeing, the Bronx Zoo cobra went searching for Broadway tickets, visited the MET, and took part in a Sex and the City tour (“I’m totally a SSSamantha…”). Alas, all good things must end, and on March 31, zoo officials announced the capture of the cobra. As far as I know, the snake is still chillin’ in its enclosure. For now.
In March, there was talk that both Mazda and Honda were dealing with automobile manufacturing defects incurred by a particular species of spider. The vent tube for the emissions and evaporative canister turned out to be a cozy spot for the yellow sac spider to call home. The thing is, this spider gets its name from the sac-style web it builds, and this webbing is so strong it was blocking the vent tube, causing cracks in the fuel tank. Of greater note, the yellow sac spider ranks high in the venom department, on par with the brown recluse and the black widow. Like the brown recluse, its bite often causes flesh to become necrotic, as in, the skin around the bite rots. However, unlike the shy brown recluse, this eight-legged fiend is an aggressive hunter. Public transportation ain’t looking half-bad.
Sure, there’s that hullabaloo about an octopus walking on land. This footage, while fun, pales in comparison to the 45-minute octopus special, Aliens of the Deep Sea, from an episode of David Suzuki’s Nature of Things that aired on the CBC at the beginning of June. Do yourself a favour and watch the show—your mind will explode. You’ll see how the octopus’ level of intelligence is startling, if not frightening. From problem solving, to camouflaging itself by mimicking patterns in never sees in the natural world, it’s obvious the octopus has a whole bevy of tricks up its many sleeves.
A reoccurring theme on Running With Sharks is that climate change and the destruction of the natural world lead to wacky and often unpleasant interactions with animals. With water temperatures rising, it’s no wonder that the ocean is getting super freaky. In July, over two-hundred million jellyfish inundated Israel’s beaches. Aside from injuring swimmers, the invading swarm also caused blackouts, as the gelatinous stinging machines clogged the power plants that use seawater for coolant.
On June 17, renowned snake handler Bill Haast passed away at the age of one hundred from natural causes. Why is this noteworthy? For over sixty years, Haast took daily injections of snake venom in order to inoculate himself against impending death. For Haast, snake bites were an occupational hazard: he milked highly poisonous snakes in order to assist with the creation of anti-venoms. With the help of a Florida doctor, Haast’s anti-venoms saved more than six thousand lives! Legend has it that the snake handler’s mitts were deformed because of numerous snake bites. One nauseating anecdote about Haast goes like this: a cottonmouth bites Haast’s finger… The finger instantly turns black/rots… Mrs. Haast comes to the rescue and snips off the decaying finger with garden shears. Needless to say, while Bill Haast was many things, he was never a hand model.
In August, a woman in the Eastern Townships —not far from Montreal—says she witnessed a cougar attacking her horse. While this is certainly a rare occurrence, the photos of the injured horse make it obvious that a large predator with serious claws is roaming the countryside. Then, at the end of September, researchers stated that the Eastern cougar, previously thought to be extinct, might very well be rejuvenating in the forests of Quebec. Between 2002 and 2011, there have been at least fifteen different cougars spotted in the province of Quebec. Wild!
On July 19, a leopard went bonkers in Prakash Nagar, India. Upon wandering into the densely populated village, the cat became startled by its surroundings and mauled six people. Forest guards were called in to kill the animal, and someone with a camera captured a series of incredible images. While other large felines aim for their prey’s jugular, the leopard instead chooses the back of the neck as its bull’s-eye. Word on the street is that leopards know the exact spot where the brain stem must be severed for a kill.
Though whales sometimes have communication problems due to our noise pollution, one baleen whale has it really tough. The animal in question, who researchers have been tracking since 1992, sings at a frequency that is inaudible to other whales. Because no other whales can hear her, and because she does not follow any other migratory paths, this solitary creature might be the loneliest whale on earth.
Sigh. This story is too horrible for words. Some gun-toting lunatic in Ohio, who had set up a makeshift animal “sanctuary” with substandard conditions, released all of the animals from his property before killing himself. The problem though, was that of the approximately fifty-six animals that escaped, there were a whole lot of large, alpha predators. With night approaching, law officials feared losing the animals in the forest. After some attempts with tranquilizer darts failed, and daylight continued to wane, police shot and killed forty-eight animals, including eighteen Bengal tigers, seventeen lions, eight bears, and one wolf. The sight of all these majestic creatures lying dead in heaps by the side of the road is enough to reduce even the coldest cynic to tears. What’s infuriating about this story is not necessarily the way the situation was handled—law enforcement was clearly in over their heads—but why this sort of situation exists in the first place. How does one come to keep captive a single Bengal tiger, let alone eighteen? What kind of legislation allows these sorts of ramshackle animal reserves to function legally? Sigh.