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WebClawer: Spineless hedgehog on the mend, Virgin Mary sighted in bird droppings, sheriff's deputy sued over dogs' testimony

Snorkel

From a spineless-no-more hedgehog to a mysterious vision of the Virgin Mary, erm, painted by a bird, the world is full of animal news today.  A few of the stories we found fascinating:

-- "Ecotourism" -- that segment of the travel industry that allows tourists to get up close (really close) to nature -- may not be all it's cracked up to be. According to some experts, tourists who swim with dolphins, snorkel with sea lions and the like may actually cause unintended harm to the animals.  Swimming-with-dolphins excursions are particularly troublesome, according to a recent Fordham University article, which notes that travelers "are boated to an area of ocean where food is used to lure the marine mammals to the surface. This regular feeding by humans changes natural behaviors and leads to habituation, leaving the animals more vulnerable to other human activities such as fishing and boating."  (Daily Travel & Deal Blog)

-- Good news for a hedgehog we told you about back in March. The little creature, named Spud, was found in an English garden and was mysteriously devoid of spines. The folks at Tiggywinkles Wildlife Hospital knew Spud was suffering from some sort of skin condition but had been unable to find any cure for the ailment.  Fortunately, months and many ointments and lotions later, the hedgehog is beginning to get his groove spines back.  A Tiggywinkles spokesperson said Spud is "looking good" and "doesn’t feel embarrassed about his state any more."  (Can hedgehogs feel embarassed?)  (Daily Mail)

-- A Bryan, Texas, family believes they've found what may be the strangest Virgin Mary sighting yet: An image of the mother of Jesus in bird droppings on the side mirror of their pickup truck.  Salvador Pachuca returned home recently after a four-month absence caused by an injury he sustained in an accident and noticed the bizarre image almost immediately. Since then, word has spread and friends and strangers alike have gone to see the side mirror, take pictures and pray.  "We just all feel protected. It's a blessing to our family and to everybody that comes to see it," said Salvador's wife, Cristal Pachuca.  The couple plan to remove the mirror and keep it on display at their home, rather than washing off the bird droppings.  (KBTX)

-- A deputy sheriff in Fort Bend, Texas, who uses his three bloodhounds to identify crime suspects by their scent has been sued by two men who say the dogs' "testimony" caused them to be wrongly accused of crimes.  One of the men, Calvin Lee Miller, spent about two months in jail on assault charges when the dogs identified a sample of his scent as identical to the scent found on sheets at the crime scene.  Miller was later cleared.  "This is junk science. This isn't even science. This is just junk," said Jeff Blackburn of the Innocence Project of Texas.  Critics of dog scent identifications as evidence say that a number of factors, such as a handler's use of the dog's leash or the presence of multiple scents at a crime scene, can influence the animals to make mistakes.  (Associated Press)

-- Lindsay Barnett

Photo: Tourists prepare to dive with four giant whale sharks and thousands of other fish in the Ocean Voyager exhibit at the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta, Ga.  Credit: Erik S. Lesser / For The Times

 
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