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WebClawer: Beluga whale learns to paint; 'sheep-pigs' take U.K. by storm; 'gay' dog denied entry to Australian restaurant; PETA billboard won't run

-- An artistic beluga whale named Xiao Qiang has been impressing spectators at China's Qingdao Polar Ocean World marine park with his watercolor painting skills. Xiao Qiang holds a paintbrush in his mouth, and his paintings have begun to fetch large prices. "His favorite color seems to be blue, and he's best of all at seascapes," trainer Zhang Yong said. "His people always look like seals." Well, Xiao Qiang wouldn't be the first artist whose representations of people didn't look all that human -- and while we're on the subject, who's to say he's not intending to paint seals? Working with a painting beluga sounds like fun, but it does have one drawback, Yong said: "Sometimes he deliberately paints [his trainers] instead of the paper." That Xiao Quang -- what a kidder. (Austrian Times)

-- A wildlife park in Essex, England, recently became home to some head-turning creatures: Mangalitsa pigs, commonly referred to as "sheep-pigs" because their curly coats resemble the wool of a sheep. Three of the animals -- a male named Buddy and two females named Porsche and Margot -- have taken up residence at the Tropical Wings park as part of a breeding program. The pigs originated in Austria and Hungary, where their thick coats help to keep them warm during the winter. (In the summertime, their coats protect them from sunburn.) "At first sight, people think they are sheep," Denise Cox, the wildlife park's education coordinator, said of the creatures. "It is not until they turn around and you see their faces and snouts you [realize] they are in fact pigs." (Daily Mail)

-- South Australia's Equal Opportunity Tribunal has ordered a restaurant in Adelaide to pay $1,400 in compensation and issue a formal apology to a blind man who says his leader dog was denied entry because a waiter misunderstood the man's companion's statement that it was a "guide dog." The waiter apparently misheard the companion "to be saying she wanted to bring a gay dog into the restaurant," according to the restaurant's owners. The restaurant apparently displays a "guide dogs welcome" sign, but the "staff genuinely believed that Nudge was an ordinary pet dog which had been desexed to become a gay dog," the restaurant's owners told the tribunal. (Agence France-Presse)

-- An attempt by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals to place a billboard advertisement in Louisville, Ky., that referred to the upcoming Kentucky Derby as a "Demolition Derby" in light of the deaths of racehorses -- including 2008 Derby runner-up Eight Belles -- has been unsuccessful. The group says no company that sells billboard or bus-ad space in Louisville would agree to post its "Demolition Derby" ad, which urged would-be viewers, bettors or attendees of the famous horse race to boycott it. "What we really want people to know about this is that if we support the Kentucky Derby in any way, we're supporting what becomes a slaughterhouse on the racetrack," said PETA vice president Tracy Guillermo. (WLKY Louisville)

-- A stork named Rodan has, for the fifth consecutive year, returned to the same eastern Croatian rooftop to reunite with Malena, his injured partner. Malena, who has been unable to fly since she was shot by a hunter in 1993, nests on the roof of Stjepan Vokic's home, and she and Rodan raise chicks there every year. Rodan teaches them to fly and guides them to their African wintering spot while Malena remains in Croatia. He typically returns to Croatia on the same day each year. "I know many other storks return a few days later, but he knows he needs to return home because Malena is waiting for him," Vokic said. (Metro U.K.)

-- A pig-tailed macaque monkey named Santisuk has been credited with improving relations between police and residents in the Thai province of Yala. Santisuk was adopted by police officers who found him suffering from a broken arm. He has since recovered from the injury, but continues to accompany a police corporal on rounds -- all while sporting his own monkey-size uniform. Other precincts are reportedly considering hiring their own police monkeys after noticing that residents are more receptive to Yala police when they see Santisuk. (Daily Mail)

-- Lindsay Barnett

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Video: Xiao Qiang the painting beluga. Credit: itnnews via YouTube

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I'm disspointed that the L.A. Times would highlight China's Qingdao Polar Ocean World marine park and post the video of this poor beluga whale at the facility. Whales are very intelligent, sentient creatures and should not be made to perform stupid tricks such as this. What does this accomplish?? What is the fascination with watching an animal - known to be very intelligent - with a very large brain move a paintbrush around on paper? Is it really that shocking or impressive? What's more impressive are the sonar capabilities, sophisticated social structures and hunting strategies of these animals IN THE WILD. It is well known that China does not have the best record for animal welfare. Did the writers of this article even check to see where this animal came from? It was likely brutally captured and torn away from its family in the wild (or is the progeny of wild-caught animals). I hope the L.A. Times will think twice before promoting another such facility or another act as silly and disrespectful to animals.

Krista has a point. Whether we like it or not, there's an indisputable link between "cute" stories like this and the tragic death of the SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau (and others) in encounters with captive orca Tillikum.

These are super-intelligent creatures being confined for life in shockingly small spaces. The wonder isn't that they can learn how to paint; the real wonder is that they don't, out of boredom, frustration and massive strength, kill many more people than they do. It doesn't matter how much their keepers love them, they can't make such imprisonment okay for all whales, dolphins, and other very intelligent creatures including our own Billy, who is still, as far as I know, living a solitary life in a much too small space at the L.A. Zoo.

Krista's also right that this "cute" story obscures China's abysmal treatment of animals. I know this blog isn't meant to be a complete downer (and I like cute puppy videos as much as the next person), but China is a country that still keeps bears in brutal confinement for life to cruelly "milk" them for their bile. The Humane Society of the US estimates 7,000 bears are held captive on farms, and a description of the process of "milking" would turn your stomach.

China has few, if any, humane laws to protect animals from abuse.

I know this is an animal news blog, but I would hope it would also be an animal-loving blog. I understand the appeal of a story like this, but it's what's being left out of the story that concerns me.


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