TIME animals

Ragtag Team of Rogue Chihuahuas Terrorizing Arizona Town

Chihuahua dog
Getty Images

They're also recruiting other strays to join their crew

Things are getting pretty dire right now in Maryvale, the Phoenix neighborhood that has become overrun with stray chihuahuas. They’re causin’ confusion and disturbing the peace. It’s not an illusion, they’re runnin’ the streets.

But not only are these rogue chihuahuas running wild, barking freely, defecating all over the place and harassing children who are just trying to walk to school, they also appear to be recruiting other, bigger dogs to run with their crew, My Fox Phoenix reports. Local animal control agencies have fielded thousands of calls from concerned citizens but are still struggling to get the situation under control. And the fact that these pooches aren’t spayed or neutered only exacerbates the issue.

Melissa Gable with Maricopa County Animal Care and Control has urged residents who spot any of these strays to contain them in their yards and then call animal control, who will then spay and neuter them, ABC News reports.

In the meantime, we propose the following solution: round up all the chihuahuas, teach them a choreographed song and dance number and then eventually get them an endorsement deal with Taco Bell. Stranger things have happened.

TIME animals

Here’s How to Predict the Weather Using Your Cat

This cat is predicting a storm. Brokinhrt2—Flickr

Why should we trust meteorologists anymore?

The climate’s been so inconsistent lately—random winter storms, polar vortexes—maybe you should stop listening to science for weather reports and go back to the only source you can really trust: your cat.

That’s the suggestion of H.H.C. Dunwoody, an Army first lieutenant who suggested in 1883 that rather than putting our faith in meteorologists who can’t predict the weather “for a longer period than two or three days, and frequently not longer than twenty-four hours,” we should follow the wisdom of animals.

In his book Weather Proverbs, unearthed by NPR, Dunwoody documents a long list of widely-held folk beliefs about weather predictions, including signals from bears, foxes, and goats, but he particularly focuses on cats. Here’s what you should look for.

  • When cats sneeze it is a sign of rain.
  • The cardinal point to which a cat turns and washes her face after rain shows the directing from which the wind will blow.
  • When cats are snoring foul weather follows.
  • It is a sign of rain if the cat washes her head behind her ear.
  • When cats lie on their head with mouth turned up [on their back] expect a storm.
  • When a cat washes her face with her back to the fire expect a thaw in winter.

Apparently too many cats have been snoring, and not enough are washing their faces while turned away from the fire. Cat owners, get to it, and we just might survive this winter yet.

TIME World

Why Marius the Giraffe Had to Become Lion Chow

Marius the giraffe at Copenhagen zoo, on Feb. 7, 2014.
Marius the giraffe at Copenhagen zoo, on Feb. 7, 2014. Keld Navntoft—AFP/Getty Images

Zoo staff have found that carcass-fed carnivores are calmer than those fed processed food

A few years ago, I attended a biannual convention of zoo nutritionists in Oklahoma for the book I was writing. Hanging out one night at the hotel bar with a group from around the United States, we got to talking about a practice in some European zoos that sounded shocking. It was called carcass-feeding, and like most Americans, I had never heard of it. This was long before the story of Marius, the giraffe fed to lions last Sunday at the Copenhagen Zoo, put carcass-feeding in the national headlines.

“Let me get this straight,” I said in the bar. “It means taking a healthy animal from one part of the zoo, euthanizing it, and feeding it to a carnivore in another part of the zoo?”

(MORE: Did Marius the Giraffe Have to Die?)

The nutritionists nodded and explained: In the wild, lions don’t encounter tidy portions of boneless, ground meat lying conveniently under the bushes. At dinnertime, meat-eaters like tigers, hyenas, and cheetahs don’t find stainless steel bowls filled with ready-to-eat kibble. Eating in the wild is bloody and hard, and carnivores have to work at it. Their fangs and digestive systems have evolved to deal with hair, bones, and other obstacles. Activities like gnawing and licking occupy the animals physically, but also have psychological and social value. Some carnivores instinctively hide and hoard meat and return to eat it later. Others observe strict hierarchies of who in the group gets to eat first. In these ways, eating behaviors play an important role in the animals’ mental health.

In many European zoos, my companions explained, carnivores are fed carcasses to promote these healthy, normal behaviors; zoo staff have found that carcass-fed carnivores are calmer than those fed processed food. So instead of being served, say, some minced beef, as it might in a U.S. zoo, a Tasmanian devil might be given a piece of a kangaroo. Or a cheetah might get a gazelle instead of a ground-chicken patty. In Europe, these prey animals often come from other parts of the zoo — recycled, if you will, as food for the carnivores.

(MORE: Marius The Giraffe Is Not The Only Animal Zoos Have Culled Recently)

While animal nutritionists in the U.S. do enrich animals’ eating experiences with puzzles and games, they tend to feed their carnivores processed meat from an outside source. The difference in this approach roughly divides American and British zoos from their counterparts in Denmark, the Netherlands, Germany, and elsewhere in Europe.

Carcass-feeding isn’t the sort of thing that most zoos feature on the welcome page of their websites. But it’s not exactly a secret, either. On a recent visit to a zoo in the Netherlands, I saw picked-over remains in the enclosure of some European wolves. A placard nearby explained the drill.

Even knowing about the cultural differences in feeding, I, like many people around the world, have been following — with interest, dread, horror, and ultimately sorrow — the story of Marius the giraffe. It was impossible not to feel sad, confused, and even outraged on Marius’ behalf. Like others, I wondered why the zoo chose to euthanize Marius instead of sending him to one of several facilities that offered to take him in. Or why Copenhagen seemed so heartless and, frankly, in-your-face about their process. (In the name of education, the zoo invited the public to a post-euthanasia necropsy — an animal autopsy — of Marius. And they made no attempt to disguise the telltale giraffe-hide markings when his remains were given to the lions.)

Eating is not the only thing that European zoos encourage their animals to do in a natural way. Zoo visitors might see animals courting and mating. Giving birth and nursing young. Bonding with infants in a mixed-age community. Living in a social group with extended family. These are all “natural” behaviors that are part of many animals’ “normal” lives in the wild. While they do have strategic breeding programs, European zoos place importance on giving animals the unrestrained opportunity to experience these life stages and cycles. The downside of this approach, however, is over-population. Allowed to breed freely, animals produce offspring that zoos might not have room to house.

Most American and British zoos, by contrast, carefully manage the reproduction of their animals, in part through contraception. When mature females are housed with males, they are usually placed on birth control (pills, shots, or implants). Although some males are castrated, long-term contraception is usually aimed at the females (as with humans). This allows for it to be reversed if the animals are to be bred. A zoo that’s cautious about how and when animals get pregnant may have fewer individuals living in smaller, less biologically “natural” groupings. But there’s no over-population problem.

American and European zoos also differ in how they treat one particular animal: human beings. As we’ve seen, the Danish approach is rather dismissive of sentimentality. With science education as the stated goal, children (with parental permission) were invited to observe Marius’s necropsy. Some parents might prefer the G-rated approach of American zoos, which generally keep mating and death offstage. But other zoo visitors could make a case for the Danish lack of hand-holding.

So we have two approaches to eating and sex in zoos — both created by people who care deeply about the animals in their care. There is, of course, another philosophy — that zoos shouldn’t exist at all, that captivity itself is cruel. Some of the outcry over Marius certainly comes from that perspective. And fair enough. But if you do think zoos have a role to play in preserving species — especially with wild habitats disappearing at a rapid rate — the high-profile and sad case of Marius offers an opportunity to talk about which approach is best for animals in captivity and in particular, what constitutes, emotionally and socially, a “good life.”

Kathryn Bowers is Los Angeles & nature editor of Zocalo Public Square, for which she wrote this. She is currently a New America Foundation fellow. Her book, Zoobiquity: The Astonishing Connection Between Animal and Human Health, explores how our physical and emotional health overlaps with that of non-human animals.

TIME animals

This Needy Penguin Just Wants to Be Loved

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The only thing this penguins has ever wanted is simply to be loved. That’s it. She’s not asking for much.

Her name is Sakura and she lives at the Matsue Vogel Park bird center in Japan, The Independent reports. She has grown entirely smitten with one of her keepers and apparently insists on following him around wherever he goes. If he runs, she runs. If he’s a bird, she’s a bird. (Get it?)

TIME animals

Cute Break: This Fox Thinks She’s A Dog

What does the fox say? Awwwww.

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A well-meaning do-gooder found a young dog, lost and alone, and took it to an animal shelter. In fact, it wasn’t a dog at all: workers at the shelter eventually realized that the pup they were tending to was actually a young fox. They took the kit to the Nuneaton and Warwickshire Wildlife Sanctuary, which cares for wild animals and prepares them to return to the wild.

However, by the time the error was realized, the fox, named Dawn, thought she was a dog, like her friends at the shelter. In fact, she sleeps in a bed and wags her tail and likes scritches under the chin.

While it’s adorable, unfortunately it means that Dawn is too tame to be returned to the wild, because she can no longer look after herself.

The Wildlife sanctuary, which posted the video of Dawn showing us what the fox really says, notes that foxes are not pets, and they do not recommend any fox or wild animal as a pet.

MORE: The Dog Will See You Now

MORE: Did Marius the Giraffe Have to Die?

TIME animals

Marius The Giraffe Is Not The Only Animal Zoos Have Culled Recently

A lion in Copenhagen Zoo eats the remains of young giraffe on Feb. 9, 2014.
A lion in Copenhagen Zoo eats the remains of young giraffe on Feb. 9, 2014. Kasper Palsnov—AFP/Getty Images

The killings of animals including zebras and pygmy hippos are necessary for conservation, zookeepers say, leading to mandatory euthanization in an effort to ensure there's room for other species, especially ones that need special protection

The killing of Marius the giraffe at a zoo in Copenhagen surprised many people around the world — and shocked quite a few — but it was no isolated incident. Also put down by European zoos in the name of genetic diversity in recent years: Zebra, antelopes, bison, pygmy hippos, and tiny Red River hog piglets.

Although zoo officials may not publicize the fact, culling is often a normal part of a zoo’s breeding program and conservation efforts. But as those breeding programs become more successful — especially with popular animals like giraffes — euthanasia is also becoming more controversial.

“As a conservation organization, we realize that there’s a crisis in the natural world, and that we have an obligation to protect species in the wild from human actions,” says David Williams-Mitchell, communications and membership manager for the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA). “One of the ways we do that is through breeding programs. But we have limited space within EAZA to carry out that, and we need to prioritize animals that can contribute to future of the species.”

The killing of animals under the protection of zoos is the ironic price of success: a zoo whose breeding program manages to produce enough healthy offspring may find itself having to put down some of those individuals in order to make room for species in greater danger of extinction. Zoos, after all, only have so much space. “You have to understand that zoos today are in a position to go deeper into conservation,” says Friederike von Houwald, curator of Switzerland’s Zoo Basel. “We can very precisely identify not just an entire species, but a particular line of species that needs protection.”

Marius was not from one of those lines and that sealed his fate. But he is hardly alone. Although considered a last resort (“we don’t do it even once a year,” says von Houwald of her zoo), euthanasia is a regular tool for biodiversity and population management in many European zoos. In the past few years, river hog piglets, pygmy hippos, tigers, antelopes, bison, and zebra have all been put down in European zoos for biodiversity reasons. Although EAZA has figures from recent years, it does not release them because of their sensitivity. “We’re not ashamed of euthanizing animals,” says Williams-Mitchell. “But we don’t want to publicize it either.”

Although Marius was the first giraffe to be put down at the Copenhagen zoo, members of other much-loved species have been euthanized. In the spring of 2012, the zoo put down, via lethal injection, two leopard cubs whose genetics were over-represented. “We cull antelopes and wild boar at the zoo every year for the same reason,” says Bengt Holst, the zoo’s scientific director. “I don’t understand the outrage.”

But as breeding programs meet ever greater success, outrage is increasingly the reaction to these policies, especially when the animal being put down is popular or especially adorable. In 2010, the decision by officials at Edinburgh zoo to put down two hog piglets named Sammi and Becca sparked protests. That same year, a court in Germany ruled that the Magdeburg zoo director and three workers were guilty of violating animal rights law for putting down three tiger cubs. Marius’ death also provoked ire from animal rights organizations and social media exploded in rage and sadness, as people around the world criticized the zoo for callously disregarding the animal’s welfare. Nearly 30,000 people signed an online petition asking that the young giraffe’s life be spared.

Yet zoo experts maintain that euthanasia — even of a healthy animal — is frequently the most responsible course. Neutering and contraception prevent the animal from performing behaviors that are critical to its sense of well-being — namely reproduction and parenting. And even separating males and females for a length of time can have unpredictable outcomes: rhinos who have been prevented from mating for a few years have not been able to reproduce once the males and females were reunited.

Other alternatives are similarly problematic. “Releasing a giraffe that had spent his entire life in captivity into the wild would have been a death sentence,” says Williams-Mitchell. “It may sound counter-intuitive; why not let the giraffe take its chances? But it seems needlessly cruel to ship an animal thousands of miles, only to release it to what is the same outcome it would have at home.”

Nor does space in another zoo necessarily equal a solution. In Marius’ case, one of the zoos that offered was rejected because, as a member of EAZA, it faced the same genetic over-representation as Copenhagen. Another was not an EAZA member, which is a problem in its own right: there was no guarantee that the new zoo complies with animal welfare standards. That same problem applies to individuals who have offered to help, including the anonymous person who offered 50,000 euros for Marius.

“We had the same thing happen with one of our zebras a few years ago that we planned to euthanize because of overrepresentation,” says von Houwald. “Someone wrote to say, ‘I can take the zebra because I have room in my horse stable. But as a zoo you have a huge responsibility to make sure this living creature is properly cared for. A zebra isn’t the same as a horse.”

That zebra, like Marius, became lion food. Another thing many people don’t realize about zoos: most euthanize animals regularly for meat to feed their carnivores.

One of the things distinguished Marius’ case was the Copenhagen zoo’s openness about it. Although the giraffe was anesthetized and shot in a private area of the zoo, his autopsy was held outdoors, in an area specially opened for visitors who wished to observe the procedure. Although some critics saw this as further evidence of a lack of empathy, the zoo itself has said it was important to opt for transparency.

That’s a sentiment with which EAZA agrees. “[The euthanasia] is a reminder of the cost of human actions,” says Williams-Mitchell. “The reason that zoos have to protect species in the first place is only partly due to poaching and illegal trade. It is also because of climate change and the wholesale pillaging of these animals’ natural habitat. Until people start to take responsibility for their actions and their lifestyle decisions, scientists who want to protect animals like Marius will continue to have to make hard decisions.”

TIME animals

‘Operation Angry Birds’ Swoops In On Massive Cockfighting Circuit

Cockfight
Getty Images

As many as 3,000 birds can simmer down now

New York police busted the largest known cockfighting circuit in state history, the attorney general announced on Sunday.

NBC News reports that more than 70 people have been arrested and as many as 3,000 birds rescued in a sting operation dubbed ‘Operation Angry Birds.’

Investigators raided a breeding farm in upstate New York, a cockfighting venue in Queens and a Brooklyn pet shop, where they found birds stuffed in cramped cages and being “bred, trained and altered for fighting.”

“Cockfighting is a cruel, abusive and barbaric practice that tortures animals, endangers the health and safety of the public and is known to facilitate other crimes,” said Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

[NBC News]

TIME animals

A Salmon Has a Better GPS Than You Do

A Chinook Salmon in the Rapid River in Idaho, on May 17, 2001.
A Chinook Salmon in the Rapid River in Idaho, on May 17, 2001. Bill Schaefer—Getty Images

New insights on how salmon make the migrations they do

Young animals are capable of some pretty astounding feats of navigation. To a species like ours, whose native sense of direction isn’t much to speak of—have you ever seen a human baby crawl five thousand miles home?—the intercontinental odysseys some critters make seem incomprehensible. Arctic tern chicks take part in the longest migration on Earth—more than ten thousand miles (16,000 km)—almost as soon as they fledge. Soon after hatching, young sea turtles take to the waves and confidently paddle many thousands of miles to feeding grounds. Young Chinook salmon likewise make their way from freshwater hatching grounds to specific feeding areas in the open ocean.

Biologists know that these species are able to sense things that humans can’t, from the Earth’s magnetic field to extremely faint scents, that could help with navigation. But they may also be inheriting some specific knowledge of the paths they have to follow. A paper in this week’s Current Biology reports that young salmon appear to possess an inborn map of the geomagnetic field that can help them get where they need to go.

(MORE: The Mystery of Sloth Poop: One More Reason to Love Science)

The researchers, who are primarily based at Oregon State University, performed a series of experiments with Chinook salmon less than a year old that were born and raised in a hatchery and had not yet taken part in a migration. They placed the salmon in pools surrounded by magnetic coils that they could tune to mimic the Earth’s magnetic field at various points in and around the salmons’ feeding grounds. (Kenneth Lohmann at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, who has done similar studies that established that baby sea turtles have inborn maps, is also an author of the paper.)

Exposing the fish to the existing magnetic field did not result in their orienting themselves in any particular way. But when the magnetic field was adjusted to resemble that at the northern-most part of the salmon’s ocean feeding range, the fish oriented themselves facing south. When the southern-most part was mimicked, they turned north.

(MORE: The Dingo Didn’t Eat Your Tasmanian Devil)

It’s unlikely the salmon see themselves as located at a certain point on a map in the way we would. Instead, like other animals with extraordinary navigational skills, they’ve probably evolved to respond with a certain behavior when certain environmental conditions, in this case changes in the magnetic field, occur. Such instinctual U-turns would keep the fish from overshooting the safe range of their feeding area, the researchers say. And once that behavior gets established, it would become evolutionarily fixed: anything that helps keep animals alive long enough to reproduce is not going away. If a similar talent were required of humans, evolution would no doubt find a way to provide it to us too. As it stands, Google Maps and GPS will remain the best we can do to rival the salmon.

(MORE: Lions Are Almost Extinct in West Africa)

TIME animals

This Poodle Will Stop At Nothing to Protect His Baby Sister From an Evil Blow Dryer

Seriously though, we wouldn't mess with this poodle.

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When a dog hears the strange sounds that come from evil machines like blow dryers and vacuum cleaners, his instinct is usually to react in a fit of panic. But not this toy poodle.

When he heard the sounds of a dog grooming blow dryer (that his humans apparently have laying around), his instinct was to protect his baby sister, who was loafing around nearby. She really doesn’t seem worried about anything, but the poodle clearly knows that the blow dryer is an evil machine, and he stops at nothing to protect his sister from its malevolent forces.

Oh, and then here are more valiant dogs protecting babies:

TIME animals

Say Hello to the Adorable Set of Rare Red Panda Twins Born in New Zealand

We're warning you, though: they're alarmingly cute

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One month ago, New Zealand’s Auckland Zoo got a whole lot cuter with the birth of a pair of Nepalese red pandas. Along with offering cuteness, though, the cubs also offer hope for a species threatened by habitat loss and illegal poaching. The twins are considered a valuable addition to the international breeding program for this species.

Visitors to the zoo can see the cubs’ parents and their older brother, but will have to wait until March to sneak a peek at the twins themselves.

Here are some photos of the twins being precious:

Red Panda Twins

Auckland Zoo
Red-Panda-Cub-640x424

Auckland Zoo
Red-Panda-Belly-640x523

Auckland Zoo

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