9:19 AM, December 1, 2008

In today's Los Angeles Times:

The Times' Carla Hall writes about the continuing controversy swirling around elephants at the Los Angeles Zoo.

Every elephant death was scrutinized; every public hearing about the animals was filled with protesters. It's no coincidence that the largest land mammal has prompted the largest and longest-running public relations problem for the zoo. Critics contend that the zoo has never had sufficient space to keep the lumbering behemoths.

And there's still not enough space, they argue, in the $42-million "Pachyderm Forest" now under construction. Several weeks ago, zoo officials eagerly showed off the portion that was completed and spoke of how the 3.6 acres would include a waterfall, water holes, mud wallows and varying surfaces for elephants' problem-prone feet to trod. ...

Today, the City Council's budget and finance committee is scheduled to meet and discuss whether the zoo project, funded by a bond measure, city money and private donations, should be shut down.

Times staff writer Kim Murphy has the latest developments in the case of the disappearing spotted owl.

Spotted_owlAcross their entire range in Washington, Oregon, Northern California and British Columbia, there are thought to be fewer than 5,000 northern spotted owls left. In the dense forests of the Olympic Peninsula last year, spotted owls were found in 19 of the 54 sites they had once populated. Their numbers have declined by a third since the 1990s, when old-growth logging across the Pacific Northwest came to a virtual halt in an effort to protect their habitat.

The declines have been so persistent -- averaging 4% a year -- that a growing number of scientists have come to think the most immediate culprit is not logging but the aggressive barred owl, which has crept into the West Coast forests from Canada over the last few decades.

And a man who once pleaded guilty to federal charges in the deaths of three bald eagles has been pardoned by President Bush.

--Alice Short

Photo credit: Associated Press

12:34 PM, November 27, 2008

Karen_dawn_and_friends

As many of us sit down at a Thanksgiving table today, we can tell tales of the ones that got away. ... We'll start with the time-honored tradition of the presidential "pardon":

Pumpkin and Pecan, the lucky turkeys whose lives were spared by the annual Thanksgiving presidential pardon Wednesday, were scheduled to fly first-class on United Airlines to Los Angeles, where one of them will be grand marshal in Disneyland's Thanksgiving parade today. The pair will then take up residence in a turkey house in the amusement park's Frontierland.

"In recent weeks, I've talked a lot about sprinting to the finish," said President Bush, surrounded by pumpkins and cornstalks in Wednesday's Rose Garden ceremony. "Yet I've assured these turkeys they will not be trotting to their finish."

The turkey pardon is a White House tradition that dates to the Truman administration. This year's duo received their names after an online vote on the White House website. Runners-up included Roost and Run and Yam and Jam.
Not surprisingly, the folks at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals asked the president to send the turkeys to an animal sanctuary instead. "You might be a lame duck, but you still have the power to help lame turkeys, who are made that way by the cruelty of the meat industry," PETA President Ingrid Newkirk wrote in the letter.

We think PETA would be thrilled with Karen Dawn and her approach to Thanksgiving. Carla Hall explains:

At Karen Dawn's Thanksgiving feast, there will be yams and stuffing with cranberries and a dessert of pumpkin-pecan pie, all set out on a table for eight.

And there will be turkeys, two of them actually -- Emily and Bruce (or possibly Brucilla -- it's a little unclear). The two 20-pounders will have most of the privileges of Dawn's other sentient guests -- a Pacific Palisades patio, a view of the ocean and vegetarian nibbles.
At Dawn's vegan holiday dinner, guests will ooh and aah over live birds. The only turkey plunked down on her table will be Wild Turkey bourbon.
The turkeys were purchased for $2 a pound from a live-turkey market near downtown L.A. On Tuesday, Hall writes, they "were adjusting to a lifetime reprieve in an outdoor coop at Dawn's home. Dawn washed them in her bathtub and blow-dried them, leaving the 4-month-old birds' feathers bright white and satiny to the touch."

--Alice Short

Photo credit: Anne Cusack/Los Angeles Times

5:15 PM, November 12, 2008

Perudog_5
What kind of dog will the Obamas bring with them to the White House? A curly Goldendoodle? Maybe a spunky Maltese or a standard poodle?

Well, Peru (as in the country) has a suggestion:

Meet Ears, a 4-month-old Peruvian Hairless dog. He's part of a bald and often toothless ancient breed that was popular during the Incan Empire. The Associated Press reports:

Perudog250_2

"They do not cause any type of allergy and are very friendly and sweet," said Claudia Galvez, 38, director of the Friends of the Peruvian Hairless Dog Association.

"We want to give a male puppy to Obama's daughters, so they get to experience all the joys of having a dog but without any allergies."

Galvez delivered a letter detailing her offer to the U.S. embassy in Lima Monday and hopes Obama will accept it.

If you're not fully sold on Ears based on his stunningly good looks alone just yet, it turns out that he has more to offer than just a ... wrinkly face.

According to a Peruvian myth, hairless dogs have higher body temperatures than other dogs because of their lack of hair, making them feel warm. Peruvian folklore also has it that hugging one of these dogs is supposed to ease stomach pains and other disorders (Wikipedia).

If he is sent to the United States, Ears will officially be named Machu Picchu (which is really too bad because, truth be told, his name was the only thing that made us think those big flappers were actually something cute). To L.A. Unleashed, he'll always be Ears.

-- Christine Kang

Photo credit: Karel Navarro / Associated Press

8:14 PM, November 10, 2008

From the Associated Press:

Worlds_ugliest_dogA one-eyed, three-legged dog that won the title of world's ugliest pooch this summer has died. The St. Petersburg Times in Florida reports that Gus, a Chinese crested dog, had cancer. He was 9. Gus was rescued from a bad home and went on to win the annual World's Ugliest Dog contest at the Sonoma-Marin Fair in northern California.

Gus came from humble origins. According to the fair, his adopted family in Gulfport, Fla., rescued him after learning he was being kept in a crate inside someone's garage.

He had one leg amputated because of a skin tumor and lost an eye in a cat fight.

Gus' owner had said the prize money from the contest would be put toward the dog's radiation treatment.

Photo: Associated Press

12:41 PM, November 10, 2008

Heidi_2 This is Heidi. She was "discovered" this year in the park by a pet talent agency; since then, she has embarked on a one-dog quest to break into the business. This is her Hollywood story as chronicled by Times staff writer Diane Haithman. And this is her “head shot”: That longing look was the result of seeing a biscuit just out of reach.

Heidi does not want me to write today’s chapter. She would rather play with her ball, as evidenced by the fact that she keeps bringing her ball to me in her mouth and spitting it at me as I sit at the computer. Or else she just stands there chewing on it; a German shepherd panting with a rubber ball in her mouth sounds a lot like Darth Vader from "Star Wars."

I must constantly remind the dog that "The Heidi Chronicles" is about her career, honey –- not mine. And today’s topic is something even scarier than Darth Vader sucking in air through that black mask: We are introducing the "snarl device," a Hollywood trick designed to make a good dog look b-a-a-a-d.

In previous chapters, we learned that Heidi, as a German shepherd, would need to learn how to speak in order to play the heavy-barking roles that are open to her breed: police dog, guard dog, junkyard dog. There is only one category in which typecasting works in favor of a good-tempered GSD (that’s German shepherd dog) like our Heidi, says her trainer, Sue DiSesso.

These days, says Sue, it is possible that more Labradors are being trained as service dogs or leader dogs for the blind than GSDs, but Hollywood still clings to the stereotype of the German shepherd as leader dog.

Read more The Heidi Chronicles, Chapter 17: Heidi 'learns' to snarl »

5:44 PM, November 7, 2008

Times staff writer Jerry Hirsch continues his chronicle of Sasha, a husky he encountered on a street in downtown Los Angeles. Hirsch brought Sasha home, only to discover that she liked to wander -- and that healthcare for animals who like to roam is expensive. Look for periodic updates on Sasha in the weeks to come on L.A. Unleashed.

Sasha_the_husky_6Sasha the stray — the Siberian husky I rescued from Spring Street in front of the L.A. Times office — needs training. For the most part, Sasha is sweet and friendly, but she considers basic commands such as "sit," "stay" and "come" options to be followed depending on factors that are well understood by canines but not us.

Much of her behavior remains a mystery. We think we understand why the snow-white dog with blue eyes suffers from anxiety attacks and engages in constant resource guarding. Her weeks or months on the street left Sasha with a strong drive to protect anything that can remotely be considered food and even water. We once watched her hover for 10 minutes over a French fry she had no immediate interest in eating to make sure our Labrador retriever wouldn’t snatch it. We eventually tossed it in the trash.

Jennifer enrolled Sasha in the Level One Dog Training class at the SPCLA facility in Long Beach. Kathleen McElderry, one of the animal behavior and training specialists, is one of the instructors. We remember Katie as a Los Alamitos High School student as she watched her younger brother play with our son Jacob in the local sports leagues.

Since high school, Katie has worked as an animal handler and trainer at Universal Studios Hollywood, as the assistant curator at Rainforest Café and as the falconer with Medieval Times Dinner and Tournament in Buena Park. We figure if anybody can help us turn the once-nearly-feral Sasha into a civilized dog, it’s Katie.

Jennifer arrived to the group lesson ...

Read more Sasha the Husky goes to school »

9:16 AM, November 4, 2008

Richard_nixon_and_checkers_2Millie_3 After the election day excitement dies down, we can anticipate the presidential inauguration in January and the presidential move-in ... and, quite possibly, the presidential pet(s) Richard Nixon had Checkers, at right. Ronald Reagan had Lucky. The Clintons had Buddy and Socks. George H.W. Bush had Millie, left, who co-authored a book. And we're told the current residents of the White House include Miss Beazley, Barney (both Scottish terriers) and a cat named India. (According to the National Geographic, "On his ranch in Crawford, Texas, the President keeps a longhorn cow name Ofelia. Bush name Ofelia after a staff member who worked with him when he was governor of Texas.")

Just as a reminder, a number of four-legged White House residents have made headlines.

The National Geographic also reports:

Past Presidents brought many interesting animals to the White House. ... The wife of John Quincy Adams, the sixth President, had silkworms. Herbert Hoover, the 31st President, had an opossum. And Calvin Coolidge, the 30th President, had a raccoon named Rebecca who walked on a leash! ...

Read more Presidential pets, past and future »

1:21 PM, October 24, 2008

Times staff writer Steve Chawkins reports that these are wonderful times to be an island fox.

An_island_fox_waits_to_be_set_free_ A decade ago, the house-cat-sized animals were scampering toward extinction, with only a few dozen surviving at spots scattered around Channel Islands National Park. Now they're practically poster mammals for species revival, numerous enough that government scientists no longer have to breed them in the safety of chain-link pens.

On Thursday, one, then another of the relentlessly cute critters dashed into the brush of this wind-swept island -- the last of the three where the breeding program operated. The transfer, solemnly performed by a park biologist and the second-in-command of the Interior Department, marked the end of a $5.4-million rescue effort that started in 1999.

"It may be one of the quickest recoveries in the history of the Endangered Species Act," said Deputy Interior Secretary Lynn Scarlett. "It's a phenomenal success story."

And all it took was booting out dozens of fox-killing golden eagles, bringing back the bald eagles that were nearly wiped out decades before and killing some 5,000 feral pigs.

Read more Release of foxes signals successful comeback »

5:58 PM, October 23, 2008

There's a new work of art (of sorts) at the Getty Center. The Associated Press reports:

The world-famous Getty Center and its art museum have had an unusual visitor — a mountain lion. The predator was spotted at night on Oct. 13 and again before dawn on Oct. 18.

It was seen in a woody area near a hilltop shuttle bus turnaround used by employees, spokeswoman Julie Jaskol said Thursday. Employees described it as “the size of a large dog, 65 or 70 pounds,” she said.

The mountain lion may have been hunting deer, which are common in the woody canyons of the Santa Monica Mountains surrounding the center overlooking West Los Angeles, Jaskol said. The area is not open to the public and the mountain lion was not considered a serious threat but “we take prudent precautions” regarding all wildlife, Jaskol said.

The shuttle stopped using the turnaround area and dropped off workers elsewhere but there have been no more sightings and it was expected to reopen sometime this week, Jaskol said. According to state game officials, “mountain lions have a range of hundreds of miles and they don’t stay in one place for very long,” Jaskol said. “They are loath to meet up with humans.”

Getty workers are used to seeing all kinds of critters in the area, including skunks, raccoons and foxes. Still, “I don’t think most of us see mountain lions,” she said. “I think everybody has seen coyotes.”

Read more Mountain lion spotted at the Getty Center »

5:01 PM, October 22, 2008

Incredibly_cute_dogs

You may scoff at photos or videos of terribly cute animals... but it turns out that sort of viewing is good for you. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer has the details:

Take 10 minutes of Animal Planet and call us in the morning. Or dose up on those videos of hilariously clumsy cats or dogs skidding on ice. Not mean ones, just funny or beautiful ones. Watching films of animal life may help you beat stress, which makes you feel great while it drops your risk of scores of health problems.

When people watched 10 minutes of animal footage, their heart rate and blood pressure dipped not only while they were under stress, but it stayed lower even afterward. It didn't matter whether the animal was scaly, feathered or furry. Even better, the sound doesn't have to be on to reap the calming benefits, so you can sneak a peek at the latest panda/polar bear/Labrador retriever clips before your next tension-filled meeting, and your officemates will never know.

Photo from Your Scene / Los Angeles Times

5:27 PM, October 13, 2008

From the Associated Press:

Some residents of the San Mateo County community of Hillsborough are relieved to see a pair of feral pigs have apparently left town.

The pigs had turned into quite a nuisance in the upscale town, prowling the streets after dark, damaging manicured lawns and landscaping.

Residents and police say they have not seen the pigs since Oct. 4.

A Hillsborough police spokesman says the department had received numerous complaints of the pigs from residents during the last several months.

1:41 PM, October 10, 2008

Quagga_mussels_make_themselves_home

Exotic mussels that compete with native species and clog pipes, pumps and boat motors have been found in two more Colorado reservoirs, the Colorado Division of Wildlife announced.

Larvae of quagga mussels have been discovered in Jumbo Reservoir in Logan County and Tarryall Reservoir in Park County, the agency said Thursday.

Quagga mussels, the related zebra mussels or their larvae, have also bQuagga_musseleen found in Grand Lake, Lake Granby, Shadow Mountain Reservoir, Willow Creek Reservoir and Lake Pueblo, the Granby-based Sky-Hi Daily News reported.

Colorado officials are inspecting boats at several reservoirs in hopes of preventing the spread of the mussels, wildlife officials said. (Parts of the Colorado River serve Southern California, by the way.)

Native to Eastern Europe, quagga mussels multiply by the millions, clogging pipes (as pictured above) and competing with fish for food. They've been spotted throughout California as well.

--Francisco Vara-Orta

Photo credits: (top) California Department of Fish and Game; (right) Bill Tate / U.S. Geological Survey

12:40 PM, October 8, 2008
Galapagos_tortoise
There's controversy on the Galapagos Islands off Ecuador. Times Staff Writer Chris Kraul reports:
A few weeks ago, 19 Ecuadorean citizens detained on these world-renowned islands were marched onto a plane and sent back to the continent under armed guard. Their crime? Illegal migration.

So far this year, the government has expelled 1,000 of its citizens from the Galapagos -- a living laboratory of unique animal and plant species -- who were there without residency and work permits. It has also "normalized" 2,000 others, in effect giving most of them a year to leave.
The migrants are attracted not by the tortoises or blue-footed boobies but by the islands' booming economy, which offers plentiful jobs and good pay. Typical wages run 70% higher than on Ecuador's mainland, the public schools are good, and violent crime is nonexistent.

Last year, Ecuador was stung by a United Nations warning that the islands, whose human population has doubled in 10 years to about 30,000, are at risk from overcrowding and mismanaged tourism.

Priming the economy is the apparently insatiable demand by foreign tourists for a close-up look at giant tortoises, elephant seals, flamingos, marine iguanas and other species in their native habitat. As a result, scientists warn, that habitat is becoming increasingly less pristine.

Read more Galapagos expels citizens as a flood of tourists threatens islands »

3:24 PM, October 7, 2008

Leatherback turtle

From the Associated Press:

MOSS LANDING, Calif.—Scientists say endangered leatherback turtles have returned to Monterey Bay to feast on jellyfish after nearly disappearing from the area in recent years.

Moss Landing Marine Laboratories researcher Scott Benson says marine biologists counted more than 300 of the giant endangered turtles in the bay this year.

Benson said a strong upwelling of nutrient-rich cold water this year brought greater stocks of jellyfish, which attracted the turtles.

Poor upwellings in previous years have sent the turtles elsewhere to find food.

The 70-million-year-old leatherback species is the largest of all sea turtles. Benson says the Pacific's leatherback population has declined by 90 to 95 percent in the last 25 years because of egg poaching and turtles getting caught in fishing gear.

Photo: Scott A. Eckert/Widecast

11:14 AM, September 29, 2008

Leatherback_turtles_making_a_comeba

Endangered leatherback sea turtles have been spotted again off the Central California coast after a two-year hiatus, drawn by jellyfish swarming the area, the San Francisco Chronicle reports:

The leatherbacks were spotted during a monthlong survey cruise aboard a government research vessel and repeated aircraft observations. Researchers said they were seen diving for meals close to shore and snacking now and then in deeper waters much farther out.

"We're getting a better understanding of the leatherbacks and their coastal habitat here after several years when the population was much lower than usual — and after we observed none at all in 2006," said Scott Benson, chief scientist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's leatherback survey mission based in Monterey County at Moss Landing.

Spotters aboard the NOAA Twin Otter aircraft found six leatherbacks "surrounded by miles of jellyfish" — along with humpback whales and large ocean sunfish — off the San Mateo County coast and in the midst of regular cargo shipping lanes leading to and from the Golden Gate.

In one case, a leatherback was observed swimming among the jellyfish only 5 miles west of Benson's home in Moss Landing, he said. Another leatherback that was equipped with a more permanent satellite tag a year ago had returned to the same area this year, apparently after spending the winter a few hundred miles south of Hawaii along what Benson called "Jelly Lane."

Leatherbacks don't eat the jellyfish's transparent globular bells — it's the viciously stinging tentacles they love, and Benson and his colleagues found themselves "covered with stinging jellyfish slime" whenever they hauled any of the turtles aboard, Benson said.

In the last 25 years, more than 90% of the leatherback population has vanished.

According to Michael Milne of the Sea Turtle Restoration Project, an environmental group based in Marin County, the abrupt decrease stems from a variety of reasons: egg-hunters raiding their nests, commercial long-line fisheries whose hooks can ensnare the turtles as "bycatch," and, most recently, the erosion of many nesting beaches because of small rises in the sea level caused by global warming.

The Moss Landing sightings aren't the only ones we've reported off the California coast: Last month, more jellyfish also meant more leatherbacks in Morro Bay. And even Texas has seen an uptick in rare leatherback sea turtle sightings.

— Francisco Vara-Orta

Photo credit: Scott A. Eckert / Widecast

5:26 PM, September 16, 2008

Grizzly_bear_ii

From the Associated Press:

Federal scientists have documented the largest population of grizzly bears in Montana, a sign that the threatened species could be at long last on the rebound.

Researchers with the U.S. Geological Survey announced Tuesday that there are approximately 765 bears in northwestern Montana. Earlier estimates said there were at least 250-350 bears. The results stemmed from a $4.8-million, five-year study of the grizzly bears' DNA that has been criticized by Republican presidential candidate John McCain on the campaign trail as an example of pork barrel spending.

The study was backed by Montana ranchers, farmers and Republican leaders as a step toward easing restrictions in place since 1975 on oil and gas drilling, logging and other development.

Photo: Associated Press

3:36 PM, September 12, 2008
  • Catch_and_release_3 Remember the great white shark that the Monterey Bay Aquarium released after 11 days because it wouldn't eat? She had to be freed again, this time after getting caught in a fishing net.
  • A Glendora family came home last night to find a bear playing with a soccer ball in their front yard.
  • An Australian animal rights group has launched a national search for a young man who was featured violently beating a kangaroo in an online video.
  • A Texas software executive is in court for allegedly allowing hunters to kill 32 of his neighbor's bison because they roamed onto his Fairplay, Colo., ranch. Wild_okapi_3
  • Zoologists have captured a photo of a wild okapi, a relative of the giraffe with zebra-like stripes on its legs and rear. Scientist say the photographs are evidence that the creature, well known to zoo visitors, has survived in the wild in its native Democratic Republic of the Congo despite poaching and civil war.

-- Tony Barboza

Photos: Monterey Bay Aquarium; Associated Press/The Zoological Society of London

5:23 PM, September 11, 2008

Do_they_have_their_own_moonwalking_

Hundreds of jellyfish washing up on Morro Bay beach show the population is healthy and booming, but beachgoers should be aware of possible stinging, experts say.

David Sneed of the San Luis Obispo Tribune reports:

The jellyfish are likely moon jellies, a common jellyfish species that is known to breed in great numbers, said Steve Johnston, a staff member at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Occasionally, a couple of things conspire, he said, and the conditions are just right for a population explosion.

The factors that control jellyfish population are algal blooms -- which the jellies feed upon -- water temperature and currents. Jellies float at the mercy of winds and current and, inevitably, some of them drift close to the shore and get caught in the surf where they wash ashore and die, Johnston said.

On the beach, the jellies look like translucent, gelatinous blobs.

People who spend a lot of time on the water report seeing large schools of the animals floating offshore.

"The concentrations of them in some spots are pretty amazing," said Mike Harris, a marine biologist with the state Department of Fish and Game in Morro Bay.

Harris said he's also seen more leatherback sea turtles in the area. Leatherbacks feed on jellyfish.

-- Francisco Vara-Orta

Photo: Cabrillo Marine Aquarium

8:28 AM, September 5, 2008

Bobcats at home

With real estate values plummeting and foreclosed homes sitting empty, a family of bobcats apparently decided the time was right to pounce.

So last week, they slipped out of the parched foothills of Lake Elsinore and into a spacious vacant home in well-groomed Tuscany Hills.

Residents of the development got their first look Aug. 27 when the feline squatters -- at least two adults and three kittens -- lolled atop a wall outside the Spanish-style house.

Someone called 911, reporting mountain lions. Four police cruisers showed up, and officers ordered everyone inside. But soon they were out snapping photos along with the neighbors.

Bobcats are not known to attack humans, said Monique Middleton of Animal Friends of the Valley, which provides animal-control services. "But are they pussycats? No. Can they do a lot of damage? Yes," she said. "They usually look for a food-and-water source, and there is an old koi pond in the backyard and that's where they are headed."

She said she expected the animals to move on in a few weeks, when the kittens are old enough to travel.

Tuscany Hills has been hit hard by foreclosures, and the house on Vista Palermo has been empty at least six months, neighbors said.

Said Scott Brown, who with his wife, Karen, moved there from Long Beach to be close to nature: "They are great neighbors, and as long as they don't want to baby-sit my kids, it's not a problem."

--David Kelly

Photo: Karen Brown

4:20 PM, August 22, 2008

Ziggy_the_alligator_looking_fierce

No, it's not Reggie. And it's not a home invader-- as you might think if this was Florida. This time it's a pet.

Animal control officers from the Los Angeles Department of Animal Services went to a North Hollywood residence this week and found an adult 5-foot-6-inch-long male alligator named Ziggy.

Ziggy’s owner, whose name was not released, surrendered the alligator to the officers without incident. Animal Services had gone to the residence because of a referral call from the Los Angeles Police Department.

"The alligator appears to be in good health, thankfully," said Kathy Davis, assistant general manager for L.A. animal services.

Ziggy is about 5 years old and has been with his owner since he was small.

Alligators are a restricted species in California, requiring a possession permit, Davis said. (You might remember the Pasadena Humane Society's resident alligator Tina, who has lived 10 years at the shelter thanks to the shelter's license.)

"Our local zoo is an excellent venue for viewing wild animals in habitats conducive to their species," Davis said. "Residents are urged to adopt traditional pets, such as dogs, cats and rabbits, from our shelters in lieu of wild animals, whose care and containment can often be overwhelming. Worse, an escaped wild animal can be disastrous for all involved."

The average male alligator can grow to 13 feet long. They are generally found in the Southeastern United States, primarily in Florida, where alligators thrive in the state's wetlands.

L.A. Animal Services has contacted a local herpetology society member who has the proper permit, and Ziggy will be transported to their facilities today.

L.A. Animal Services has also contacted California Fish and Game to inform them of the impoundment and subsequent transfer to the herpetology society, and that agency will determine if any criminal charges will be filed.

"I don't know how you have dinner parties with an alligator in the house," Davis said. "This is the largest reptile we've seized in a long time."

--Francisco Vara-Orta

Photo: Los Angeles Department of Animal Services

6:45 PM, August 19, 2008

Yeah_right_chewie

Even though we told you about spotting dinosaurs in Southern California, we can't fail to mention recent rumblings in the Southwest over "sightings" of Bigfoot and its folkloric Latino cousin - the Chupacabra.

Well, now we know one was a hoax: Today, two researchers on a quest to prove the existence of Bigfoot say that the carcass encased in a block of ice — handed over to them for an undisclosed sum by two men who claimed to have found it — was discovered to be a rubber gorilla outfit.

The news was announced by Steve Kulls, executive director of squatchdetective.com and host of Squatchdetective Radio, in a posting on a website run by Bigfoot researcher Tom Biscardi. As the “evidence” was thawed, the claim began to unravel as a "hoax."

The revelation comes just days after two self-proclaimed Bigfoot trackers, Matthew Whitton and Rick Dyer, held a news conference in Palo Alto to publicize their claim of having found the elusive Sasquatch, or at least the body of one as pictured above, in northern Georgia. Malia Wollan of the Associated Press reports:

As they faced a skeptical audience of several hundred journalists and Bigfoot fans -- including one curiosity seeker in a Chewbacca suit -- the pair were joined by Tom Biscardi, head of a group called Searching for Bigfoot. Some Bigfoot hunters say Biscardi just likes attention.

Biscardi fielded most of the questions. Among them: Why should anyone accept the men's tale when they weren't willing to display their frozen artifact or pinpoint where they supposedly found it? How come bushwhackers aren't constantly tripping over primate remains if there are as many as 7,000 Bigfoots roaming the United States, as Biscardi claimed?

"I understand where you are coming from, but how many real Bigfoot researchers are out there trekking 140,000 miles a year?" Biscardi said.

The story did cause a furor of fun coverage.

The Times' Mary Forgione wrote on the travel blog about where Bigfoot has been "spotted" in California and Web Scout's David Sarno blogged about a video of Bigfoot interacting with humans in the redwoods of Northern California. The Washington Post's Ashley Surdin pointed out--with a link to a hilarious graphic -- what "experts" truly say makes a Bigfoot:

According to the website of the Bigfoot Discovery Museum in Felton, Calif., there is a discernible difference between "fake hairy" and "genuine" bipeds. Among the telltale signs of fakery: "knees lock and feet flap when walking," "ankles too dainty" and "buttocks too tiny." The real thing has "extra thick" calluses on its feet, "very large jaws" and "bad body odor when afraid or provoked."

Not be left on the wrong side of the border of reality, the Chupacabra, which translates as goat sucker, made its latest appearance on a dashboard-mounted camera by Deputy Sheriff Brandon Riedel and his officer, Ellie Carter, in the town of Cuero, Texas, ABC News reports.

The Chupacabra has taken on legendary status akin to Bigfoot in Latino culture and has previously been sighted as far south as Chile and Argentina and as far north as Maine. Similar animals have been described in Russia and the Philippines.

But its other most recent perennial showing in Cuero last year turned out to be a coyote with mange.

The search continues.

--Francisco Vara-Orta

Photo: Getty Images

3:20 PM, August 19, 2008

Is_everyone_in_the_red_nowadays

The red lionfish, a visually stunning but venomous sea creature, is rapidly multiplying in the Caribbean's warm waters, swallowing native species, stinging divers and wreaking havoc on an ecologically delicate region, the Associated Press reports.

A marine biologist likens the arrival of the red lionfish to an invasion of locusts. As the AP reports:

The red lionfish, a tropical native of the Indian and Pacific oceans that probably escaped from a Florida fish tank, is showing up everywhere -- from the coasts of Cuba and Hispaniola to Little Cayman's pristine Bloody Bay Wall.

Wherever it appears, the adaptable predator corners fish and crustaceans up to half its size and sucks them down in one violent gulp.

"This may very well become the most devastating marine invasion in history," said Mark A. Hixon, an Oregon State University zoology professor and marine ecology expert who compared lionfish to a plague of locusts. "There is probably no way to stop the invasion completely."

--Francisco Vara-Orta

Photo: Doug Kesling/Associated Press

2:01 PM, August 5, 2008

Perhaps you've heard reports on the "Montauk Monster"? Seen the photos of a dead creature that resembles a fighting dog/raccoon/turtle/raptor? It all started last month when someone took a photo of "something" that had washed onshore in Long island’s East Hamptons. Gawker.com posted the image and the Internet went nuts. Experts were called in to comment. Was it a real creature? A hoax? Newsday updates the situation:

Fifty years from now, when the history of Montauk is recalled -- maybe over drinks at a pub -- the summer of 2008 will belong to the Montauk Monster. (Here's a link to a video.)

And while said Monster -- part pig, turtle, possum, dog, you name it and have at it -- could not be located yesterday, rest assured, the search continues for this Ditch Plains beast that can now be added to the pantheon of the mythical.

And residents are proud of it.

Many locals think it was all very "Montauk" and just another weird thing to add to the lore of what weather and ships and storms and boats can bring to shore....

It was THE story at the surf shops and at Colleoden Hotel, said Trish O'Gara. "It's pretty cool and everybody is talking about it," she said. "Every year it's something. Last year it was the weird clouds that were forming and this year they have the monster."

Despite the local pride, there still was much debate over just what the monster was.

Was the Montauk Monster a hoax along the lines of the short-lived legend of the sea serpent living in a local Montauk pond circa 2003?

Or a real, dead thingamabob?...

A local who wanted to remain anonymous (we are dealing with monsters here) and who was seen in the vicinity of Mr. John's Pancake House said she has seen the monster on people's phones. And she knows people who saw it on Ditch Plains [Beach] and other people who saw it at the person's house that they took it to.

"It's only about the size of a cat," she said, taking the monster right out of this Montauk mystery.

Can you take us to it so we can gaze upon its beaked visage, no matter that it is a stinking corpse? Maybe take a few DNA tests?

"Now it's decomposed and it's just skull and bones.

"Hopefully we don't find another one," she said.

Read more Catching up with the 'Montauk Monster' »

11:59 AM, August 5, 2008

Western_lowland_gorillas

There's good news and bad news on the primate front, as reported today by Greenwire:

A survey of vast tracts of forest and swamp wilderness in Congo has revealed a population of more than 125,000 western lowland gorillas, an encouraging sign for the subspecies, which was listed as critically endangered earlier this year after its population was ravaged by hunting and outbreaks of the Ebola virus.

The Wildlife Conservation Society's survey findings were to be presented today at a meeting of the International Primatological Society in Edinburgh, Scotland.

The government of Congo Republic has designated one of the studied regions as a national park, but conservation groups warn the government has insufficient funds for protecting the park, especially as the threat of illegal logging looms as demand for tropical hardwood grows....

"Separately, a report released today finds that 48 percent of the world's primates -- a group of humankind's closest relatives that includes chimpanzees, orangutans, gibbons and lemurs -- face extinction.

Photo credit: Associated Press / Thomas Breuer / Wildlife Conservation Society

3:29 PM, August 2, 2008

Paws_claws_applause

In an effort to educate the public about endangered species surviving in the wild, NoHo Gallery L.A., in collaboration with the L.A. Zoo, is presenting "Paws, Claws, Applause," an exhibition of animal portraits.

Black-and-white photos of various wildlife shot at the L.A. Zoo by featured photographer Charlie Morey are on display along with paintings and animal-like pieces of artwork by artists including Ildar Galyamov, Francis Gill and Harlan Peterson.

A percentage of the proceeds from the show, which runs through Aug. 29, will be donated to the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Assn.

For more information visit www.nohogalleryla.com.

NoHo Gallery L.A. exhibit

12:03 PM, July 31, 2008

Isabella_a_golden_retriever_takes_c

A golden retriever in the Midwest may just win the best-mother-of-the-year award. The Associated Press reports:

CANEY, Kan.  — A dog at a southeast Kansas zoo has adopted three tiger cubs abandoned by their mother. Safari Zoological Park owner Tom Harvey said the tiger cubs were born Sunday, but the mother had problems with them.

A day later, the mother stopped caring for them. Harvey said the cubs were wandering around, trying to find their birth mother, who wouldn't pay attention to them. That's when the cubs were put in the care of a golden retriever, Harvey said.

Harvey said it's unusual for dogs to care for tiger cubs, but it does happen. He said he has seen reports of pigs nursing cubs in China, and he actually got the golden retriever after his wife saw television accounts of dogs caring for tiger cubs.

Puppies take about the same amount of time as tiger cubs to develop, and Harvey said the adoptive mother just recently weaned her own puppies.

"The timing couldn't have been any better," he said.

The mother doesn't know the difference, Harvey said. He said the adopted mother licks, cleans and feeds the cubs.

The Safari Zoological Park is a licensed facility open since 1989 and specializes in endangered species.

Photo credit: Rob Morgan / Associated Press

12:45 PM, July 30, 2008

Princess_chunky_a_44pound_cat

Meet Princess Chunk, a 44-pound cat, who is just two pounds shy of the 1987 Guinness World Record for overweight cats.

South Jersey, to be sure, has seen its fair share of the indictable variety, but never before has it seen the likes of the portly pussycat found waddling in Voorhees.

News reports, including one in the Philadelphia Inquirer, state that the Camden County Animal Shelter is trying to find the feline's owner ... and trying to develop an exercise routine for its suddenly famous resident.

"She's bigger than my Yorkie dog," said shelter volunteer and "foster mom" Deborah Wright.

According to the Inquirer report:

Dennis Green, a librarian at the central branch of the Philadelphia Free Library, researched records on the fattest cat in the world. Green said the record was held by 46 pound, 15 1/4 ounce Himmy of Australia who was entered into the 1987 Guinness Book of World Records, the last year the organization had the weight category for cats. Himmy died of respiratory failure.

Photo: John Costello / McClatchy-Tribune

10:16 AM, July 15, 2008

A hiker stranded over the weekend in the San Bernardino National Forest thought she saw a monkey in the mountains, but after further investigation, it's not Moe, the chimpanzee missing since last month, the Associated Press reports today:

Grace Hilario was hiking Friday when she became separated from her group. That afternoon she saw the silhouette of what she said appeared to be a dirty gray monkey weighing about 50 to 60 pounds.Moe_with_his_rescuers_in_the_70s

However, Moe is about twice the weight Hilario described and black in color. And the area where she was found is nearly on the other side of the San Bernardino National Forest, at least 20 miles from where Moe escaped June 27.

Jungle Exotics owner Joe Camp says Moe would have had to cross numerous highways to get there from his compound.

Still, volunteers will pay more attention to that area of the forest where Hilario was.

The 42-year-old Moe became a celebrity during the decades he lived in a couple's West Covina home. He is pictured here with the couple, LaDonna and St. James Davis, at their wedding in 1970.

For the record, Moe is an ape, not a monkey. And speaking of monkeys, if Hilario did see one, where did that animal come from?

-- Francisco Vara-Orta

Photo credit: Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times

12:31 PM, July 11, 2008

Threetoed_slothHigh on a jungle hilltop, at a unique research center in the middle of the Panama Canal, scientists are studying three-toed sloths (like the one pictured), howler monkeys and jungle flora to better understand evolution and the practical effects of global warming.

The biological secrets being studied at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute are more than just thesis fodder. Scientists say some provide clear warnings of a planet in peril and could provide clues to ways to save it. Chris Kraul reports in today's L.A. Times:

Barro Colorado Island was formed in 1911 when the Chagres River was dammed to help create the Panama Canal. The flooding formed an isolated refuge for thousands of plant and animal species.

The Smithsonian set up shop here in 1923, when the canal was under the control of the United States. Its continued existence was assured through the terms of the canal's transfer to Panama in 1999. Now, an average of 300 biologists a year from 15 countries use STRI's uniquely self-contained ecosystem to study animal and plant life.

"It's a precious jewel of tropical biological research," said Kate Milton, a UC Berkeley zoologist who has studied howler monkeys here for 30 years.

Photo: Max Planck Institute

8:56 AM, July 8, 2008

The search is still on for Moe the chimp, which escaped on June 27 from his cage at Jungle Exotics near Devore, but officials had no luck over the weekend. The San Bernardino Sun reports:

Michael McCasland, a spokesman for Moe's West Covina owners, said that a search for Moe on Sunday night turned up no new clues as to the chimpanzee's whereabouts.

"They got all the tools they need to track him," he said of the searchers.

McCasland said Moe has left behind "no traces, just no evidence of where he's at." This has made the search more difficult, he said.

There have been no confirmed sightings of the chimp since his escape. The weekend searchers followed up many leads on Moe, McCasland said, but all the tips turned out to be the tracks of a mule, dogs or other animals.

However, the Sun reports, a bizarre tip did come in during the weekend search:

Although the weekend search turned up no hard evidence of Moe's location, Arden Wiltshire of the San Bernardino County sheriff's office confirmed a report of a man in a monkey suit running in and out of traffic about 10 p.m. Sunday at a turnout near Lake Williams Road in Big Bear.

Authorities were sent out to investigate and found nothing.

"I have not talked to anyMoe_the_chimp_in_better_days_4body this morning on that," McCasland said on Monday regarding whether a report could have been a Moe sighting. "If it's something halfway credible, we would have already heard about it."

Moe lived with LaDonna and St. James Davis for more than 30 years in their West Covina home, when this picture was taken in the 1970s, until Moe was later removed from their home and placed in a sanctuary. The Davises spoke to the press on June 30 to lament his escape.

--Francisco Vara-Orta

Photo: Gary Friedman/Los Angeles Times

12:35 PM, July 3, 2008

We_love_their_whale_humps

Catching a glimpse of a majestic humpback whale in the Santa Barbara Channel may be priceless for marine life enthusiasts, but The Times' Pete Thomas reports that for under $100, you can get a front-row seat:

It's a bizarre yet wondrous sight: a 40-foot humpback whale holding position only a few feet beside a 75-foot catamaran.

The whale's radiant white pectoral fins are spread like wings. Its massive body rolls gently as this great leviathan casts a curious glance toward its gawking admirers.

It's one of two "friendlies" providing passengers aboard the Condor Express with encounters so close they can hardly believe their eyes.

These are lively times in the Santa Barbara Channel. Vast blooms of krill and nutrient-rich waters teeming with bait fish have attracted dozens of mammalian species, including humpback and blue whales.

The high-speed Condor Express -- the only vessel making daily forays deep into the channel -- can reach the feeding grounds in less than an hour.

Several minutes pass before a large splash in the distance. Soon the vessel is alongside two humpbacks. Passengers crowd the rails and camera shutters click.

"I finally have proof!" shouts a gleeful Jeffrey Mummey, 11, from Heath, Ohio, explaining that his cousin Nick, who is not aboard, "never believes me when I tell him stuff."

Globally, humpbacks number 35,000 to 40,000. The ones Thomas and his boat mates saw measure 40 to 50 feet and weigh about 40 tons and are among the perhaps 1,300 that migrate between Costa Rica and California.

--Francisco Vara-Orta

Photo: Eric Zimmerman

10:25 AM, July 3, 2008

Gray_wolfThe Associated Press reports that a possible gray wolf has been sighted on a ranch in northern New Mexico, raising the prospect that wolves may have migrated into the state from the Northern Rockies ,where they were reintroduced more than a decade ago.

There's been no confirmed gray wolf in the wild in New Mexico since the animals were exterminated from the state in the early and mid-1900s. The animal was seen several times and photographed on Vermejo Park Ranch, which is owned by media mogul Ted Turner. It was first spotted about a month ago, but government biologists have not been able to capture the animal to obtain genetic material to confirm whether it's a wolf.

A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman said that government agencies hoped to capture the animal on the ranch, attach a radio collar and then track it. A gray wolf in New Mexico would be protected by the federal Endangered Species Act.

Photo: Associated Press

11:55 AM, July 1, 2008

South_china_tiger_photos_faked

The tale of the tiger started last October when local forestry officials in China's Shaanxi province held a news conference and released what they said was a photo of a rare South China tiger in the wild, a sight not seen since the 1960s.

But The Times' Mark Magnier reports that the story and its photos always seemed too good to be true:

This weekend, local authorities revealed after months of delay that the pictures had been staged using a poster cutout. Police also produced a paw made of wood they said had been used to make prints in the snow.

Zhou Zhenglong, 54, a farmer and local guide who took the photographs, was arrested Saturday on suspicion of fraud. And 13 officials in Shaanxi province in central China have been fired or disciplined, the government announced Sunday.

The revelations in the "paper tiger" case were driven by persistent Internet activists who demanded answers from Zhou and local officials. The case has also spurred a heated debate over cover-ups, culpability and corruption, as well as whether Zhou was forced to take the fall for powerful officials.

Zhou was paid $2,915 for the photographs by the local forestry department, which was reportedly trying to start a nature reserve, seeking over $1 million from Beijing in funding and pushing to boost tourism. Zhou, who had acted as a guide for animal protection officials, had originally been led to believe the photos might be worth as much as $140,000.

Looks like Hollywood isn't the only place guilty of doctoring what appears as reality. Local officials in the tiger case said they were "reflecting on their mistakes."

Speaking of tigers in China, a Times editorial today urges the Chinese government to close the country's tiger farms in order to save them from extinction and abuse.

-- Francisco Vara-Orta

Photo: AFP/Getty Images

7:01 PM, June 26, 2008

ESPN is reporting that the pigeons around the All England Club are safe -- for now.

Wimbledon organizers came under fire from animal rights groups for using marksmen to eradicate some pesky pigeons Sunday, but they have pledged to use only two hawks to keep the birds away for the remainder of the tournament.

Wimbledon organizers said the extreme pest control response had only been deemed necessary because pigeons were creating a health risk around the players' lawn and a restaurant.

"The hawks are our first line of deterrent, and by and large they do the job," Wimbledon spokesman Johnny Perkins said Tuesday. "But unfortunately there were one or two areas where the hawks didn't deter the pigeons, so it was deemed necessary to take a harder approach," he explained.

The decision to call in the marksmen was condemned as "cruel and illegal behavior" by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which complained to the tournament organizers and the police.

11:45 AM, June 25, 2008

Who says the Southern California desert heat is un-bear-able?

It was 108 degrees in Twentynine Palms on Tuesday and likely will reach 106 today. But that hasn't slowed down a big black bear that has been roaming the high desert town of Twentynine Palms, the Associated Press reports:

San Bernardino County sheriff's Deputy Philip Bushline said the bear weighs as much as 400 pounds. While keeping tabs on it Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, deputies say it crisscrossed State Route 62 several times. It was last seen near the Joshua Tree National Park Visitor Center.

Deputies still have no idea where the bear came from. Animal control officers have been notified.

The animal has not been aggressive, but residents should keep their distance and call deputies if they see it, officials said.

--Francisco Vara-Orta

12:19 PM, June 23, 2008

State biologists identified a big black cat killed by a sheriff's deputy in the Midwest as a leopard, the Associated Press reports.

James Dixon of the Missouri Department of Conservation said the cat was identified by the St. Louis Zoo.

Newton County Sheriff's Cpl. Donn Hall shot the animal when it charged him May 19. A woman had reported the the cat was scratching at the door of her home near Neosho, Mo.

Owners of big cats in Missouri are required to register their animals, but the sheriff's department says no one has reported a leopard missing.

Mistaking a big cat for another animal, such as a leopard, or vice versa, isn't an uncommon call for law enforcement agencies, as evidenced locally by a recent big cat sighting in Eagle Rock.

--Francisco Vara-Orta

12:57 PM, June 21, 2008

An_american_alligator_was_found_in_Chicago has had some interesting experiences with wild animals this year. In April, a cougar had the misfortune of wandering into the city's North Side -- it was shot by police. Yesterday, a different kind of creature was discovered in the Chicago River. The Chicago Tribune reports:

Terrible things have emerged over the years from Bubbly Creek, a spot in the Chicago River that was once a churning sewer for the city's slaughterhouses. But until Friday, nobody had seen what Bill Cox and his co-workers saw — something with a devilish underbite, sinister eyes and a coldblooded appetite. An honest-to-goodness alligator in the Chicago River...

The American alligator, at left, may have been a long way from home, but she looked docile in the water. Her demeanor changed after she was trapped by volunteers with the Chicago Herpetological Society.

The thrashing, hissing transplant — estimated to be 5 years old — was put in a plastic container and spent the next few hours snapping at TV cameras and people who came to meet her in the Midland parking lot. The American alligator is one of the strongest and most aggressive of reptiles native to the United States, experts said.

The animal will be sent to a shelter in the Southeast.

--Alice Short

Photo: Alex Garcia/Chicago Tribune

11:10 AM, June 19, 2008

Take_your_dog_to_workd_ay We tend to be a little suspicious of proclamations such as "Friday, June 20, is Take Your Dog to Work Day." (Doesn't it sound a bit like a Hallmark conspiracy?) And yet, our dog is so ab-fab that we're tempted to ignore the voices in our head that say "Perhaps the L.A. Times newsroom is not a great place to bring your terrier-mix for the day," and sneak the little guy past security, past the boss' office and into the tiny space under the work station that passes for leg room.

According to the Take Your Dog to Work Day website, the celebration has been around since 1999. Its primary sponsor appears to be Pet Sitters International, the "world’s largest educational association for professional pet sitters, representing nearly 8,000 independent professional pet-sitting businesses in the United States, Canada and abroad." (We had no idea!)

If you're wondering who on earth would allow their employees to bring dogs to work, a report on MSNBC says "as many as 10,000 companies in the United States and Canada opened their doors to employees' dogs during the annual event held last June."

How will Southern California officially celebrate? Well, we've received one piece of intelligence from a news release issued by the L.A. County Department of Public Works: "This Friday is 'Take Your Dog to Work Day,' and County of Los Angeles Department of Public Works officials will use this day to remind dog owners of the importance of picking up after their pet, for the health of their four-legged friends and our environment." (We suspect the county is not in a true mood to celebrate Take Your Dog to Work Day.)

If by some chance you really can bring your dog to work, Denise Flaim of Newsday has some tips about what to do to create a good first impression.

Read more Friday is Take Your Dog to Work Day »

10:10 AM, June 19, 2008

No_photoshop_necessary_2Who says there's no such thing as a unicorn?

The Associated Press reports that "a deer with a single horn in the center of its head -- much like the fabled unicorn -- has been spotted in a nature preserve in Italy."

"This is fantasy becoming reality," Gilberto Tozzi, director of the Center of Natural Sciences in Prato, said. "The unicorn has always been a mythological animal."

The 1-year-old Roe Deer -- nicknamed "Unicorn" -- was born in captivity in the research center's park in the Tuscan town of Prato, near Florence, Tozzi said. He is believed to have been born with a genetic flaw; his twin has two horns.

Single-horned deer are not unheard of, but the position of the horn makes this creature most unusual, experts say.

As for mythical unicorns, they have appeared in the art and stories of cultures worldwide, from ancient times to Harry Potter. In a 1960s novelty song, the Irish Rovers retold the tale of Noah and the flood in "The Unicorn Song," explaining that the unicorns missed the boat. Remember the catchy chorus that began, "There was green alligators and long-necked geese"?

--Alice Short

Photo: Young Kwak/Associated Press

9:45 AM, June 19, 2008

Panda_and_its_fans

The eight young pandas evacuated during the recent earthquakes in China have become the Beijing Zoo's media darlings, Barbara Demick reports.

Visitors to the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta can pay to swim with whale sharks, but some experts says the practice could be risky for the sharks, Richard Fausset reports.

Speaking of risk, some SoCal surfers are opting to take the risk of a swim in the shark-populated waters at a beach north of Ixtapa, Mexico, Pete Thomas reports.

President Bush urges offshore drilling in wildlife refuge areas, but Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger disagrees with tampering with California's coast.

Meanwhile, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, a nonprofit coalition of hunting, fishing and other organizations, filed  a lawsuit against the Interior Department and the Bureau of Land Management in U.S. District Court in Washington, saying the government agency "failed unequivocally" to monitor and mitigate the effects of gas and oil drilling on wildlife in Wyoming, Tami Abdollah reports.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's refusal to let firms test for mad cow disease denies consumers a safety net, a Times editorial says.
-- Francisco Vara-Orta

Photo: Andy Wong/Associated Press

4:44 PM, June 17, 2008

The Washington Post has another reason why the rich are different from the rest of us:

Town_country_dogs Socially prominent humans have been known to hunt for their own photos every time the latest issue of Town & Country magazine lands in their mailboxes. The next best thing? Finding photos of their dogs.

The editors of the magazine have cleverly gathered canine portraits that have appeared in its pages over the past 15 years in a new book, "Town & Country Dogs" (Hearst Books/Sterling Publishing, $14.95.) The dogs appear in stylish settings from Palm Springs to St. Bart's, some with their famous owners and some without. Check out Matthew Broderick and Sally, his cute border collie. They have the same smile.

No doggie pedigree was required.

1:30 PM, June 12, 2008

A_new_day_has_turtles

Californians can proudly claim a champion in the Great Turtle Race, an international event we told you about earlier this month that tracked the journey of 11 radio-tagged leatherbacks in the Pacific Ocean toward the International Date Line.

The first to reach the finish line was a turtle named Saphira II, sponsored by the Bullis Charter School of Los Altos, Calif. Turtle enthusiasts can relive the adventure by visiting the race's website and watching an interactive recreation using a rainbow of colors to differentiate the turtles.

But Saphira II and her competitors aren't the only leatherbacks making strides on the world's shores. The New York Times is also reporting that the creatures showed up for the first time in decades on Texas tan-tinged beaches near Corpus Christi:

For the first time since the 1930s, federal biologists confirmed that a leatherback sea turtle has nested on a Texas beach, at the Padre Island National Seashore near Corpus Christi.

Last Friday, staff conducting a beach patrol found turtle tracks and a few exposed eggs. They were thought at first to be those of a green turtle. But the eggs and the width of the tracks, more than 6 feet across, were later determined by a park biologist, Cynthia Rubio, to be from a leatherback. The giant turtles, endangered around the world, have until now only been known to nest in four spots in the United States –- with about three dozen females a year laying eggs on beaches along the east coast of Florida and slightly larger nesting populations in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. There is evidence of nesting in North Carolina as well.

-- Francisco Vara-Orta

Photo: Scott Benson/U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service

2:50 PM, June 11, 2008

A 22-year-old man was recovering this morning after he was bitten by a rattlesnake at an Inglewood park Tuesday night. The Times' Molly Hennessy-Fiske reports:

The man, whose name had not been released this morning, told police that he picked up the snake in Edward Vincent Park, 700 Warren Lane, thinking it was harmless, Inglewood Police Sgt. Gabriela Garcia said.

Then it bit him, twice.

The man attempted to drive himself to the hospital, became ill and called 911 about 9:45 p.m., Garcia said. Police and Los Angeles County fire paramedics found the man in the 100 block of North La Brea Avenue, Garcia said.

They took him and the snake, which he had placed in a bucket, to Centinela Hospital Medical Center, where staff determined what sort of antivenin to use to treat the man, Garcia said.

The snakebite victim was listed in good condition this morning, according to a hospital spokeswoman.

Garcia said such snakebite reports are rare.

"I've been with the department 11 years, and this is the first I've ever heard of a rattlesnake in the area," she said.

Rattlesnake sightings, however, are common in the Southland, and their bites are only becoming more lethal, The Times' Tony Perry reported earlier this week on L.A. Unleashed. Other people have been bitten recently, including a 3-year-old on Monday in Lake Arrowhead, Hennessy-Fiske reports.

--Francisco Vara-Orta

10:30 AM, June 10, 2008

Catching up on a few stories about endangered species:

Tasmanian_devil_searches_for_food_aAccording to a report in the Wall Street Journal, efforts to save Australia's Tasmanian devils are on the rise as the marsupials that are the size of small dogs near the brink of extinction because of a lethal contagious cancer.

The devils, unique to Australia's Tasmania island, earned their name from their hair-raising growling and propensity to brawl over carrion. Now, their violent behavior is quickly spreading a facial tumor disease. When infected devils bite each other's faces in scuffles, they transmit tumor cells.

Infected animals usually die within three months.

In the meantime, the San Antonio Express-News reports that more than 500 whooping cranes are living in North America for the first time in a century:

Whooping_craneThe birds' resurgence has boosted the confidence of wildlife biologists over the long-term survival of the critically endangered species.

Whooping cranes nearly went extinct in the 20th century because of habitat loss and hunting -- there were only 15 in existence in 1945. But the numbers have steadily grown thanks to concerted conservation efforts....

...More than half of the world's whooping cranes winter in Texas, where their habitat is threatened by coastal development and dwindling water supplies in the state's rivers. Natural threats such as disease and hurricanes also pose risks to the cranes' small population.

-- Alice Short

Tasmanian devil photo: Rob Griffith/Associated Press

Whooping crane photo: Kelly Overton/Associated Press

2:30 PM, June 9, 2008

Komodo_dragon

Scuba divers swept 20 miles by currents survived 12 hours in shark-infested waters and then scrambled onto a remote Indonesian island -- where they fought off a Komodo dragon, a port official said.

According to Times wire reports, the divers, three from Britain, one from France and one from Sweden, pelted the giant carnivorous lizard on Rinca island with rocks and pieces of wood.

Searchers found the divers the day after their encounter with the lizard, similar to the one above.

--Francisco Vara-Orta

Photo: Richard Paddock/Los Angeles Times

4:14 PM, June 5, 2008

Police in Iceland say they fatally shot the first polar bear seen in the country in 20 years after the animal threatened people, the Associated Press reports.

Authorities say police in northern Iceland shot the bear Tuesday after determining that drugs that could be used to sedate the animal were unavailable and that a gun to fire them was elsewhere in the country.

It's not known how the polar bear reached Iceland; it may have come on an iceberg or swam. Scientists blame global warming for the disappearance of sea ice — vital for the bear's survival.

-- Francisco Vara-Orta

9:35 PM, June 2, 2008

The Orange County Register reports on a sighting of a great white shark, spotted two miles offshore near Doheny State Beach Sunday by a whale watching charter boat.

Captain Chad Steffen said the shark, about 15-foot long, was cruising alongside the Ocean Adventure catamaran at about 2:30 p.m. when it caught his eye. A marine biologist on board also saw the shark, but by the time Steffen tried to swing the boat around for spectators to get a look, it was gone.

“It all happened within a few seconds,” he said. “We watched him swim behind us through the prop wash, he didn’t come back to the surface,” Steffen said. The charter boat waited around for about 10 minutes to see if the shark would come back, but with no luck. “He was big. I do a lot of free diving and fishing myself, so I’m in the same water as that guy,” he said of the shark.

--Alice Short

7:19 AM, May 31, 2008

Baby_red_tail_hawk

This baby red-tailed hawk was rescued from a tall redwood by rangers in Griffith Park.

According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the red-tailed hawk is the most common and widespread hawk in North America.  The university's web site also says:

In the courtship display a pair of Red-tailed Hawks soars in wide circles at a great height. The male dives down in a steep drop, then shoots up again at nearly as steep an angle. He repeats this maneuver several times, then approaches the female from above. He extends his legs and touches or grasps her briefly. The pair may grab onto one other and may interlock their talons and spiral toward the ground.

Photo: Albert Torres/Chief Park Ranger, Park Ranger Division, Recreation and Parks

10:39 AM, May 29, 2008

We've tried to avoid Gawker. Really. But now we must urge readers of L.A. Unleashed to read a little essay titled "Please Stop Talking About Puppies" by Hamilton Nolan:

It's one thing to spend your time commenting on a site that has witty, engaging repartee, like this one. But some other places are inexplicable. Like one that came to my attention today: DailyPuppy.com. It exists to post puppy pictures. Okay, fine, I have nothing negative to say about that, dog Nazis. But do said puppy pictures require 90 comments just today, which all sound like this actual example: "Oh baby you are such a cutie-pie. A zillion biscuits and cuddles Ooltie_the_puppy_3 poppet and have a wonderful life. xxxxxxxxxxx." GOD. It really challenges your ability to even continue liking puppies.

Here's what we have to say to that, Mr. Nolan: Meet Ooltie, left, whose owner sent his photo to Your Scene at Latimes.com.

-- Alice Short

11:15 AM, May 26, 2008

Authorities_photograph_a_dead_cougaPerhaps you recall the cougar that was shot last month on the north side of Chicago? There was a great uproar among animal folk about the death and criticism (and praise) for the way the surprise appearance was handled. Now it turns out that authorities are investigating whether an arson fire near the Chicago mayor's summer home last month is linked to threats against Mayor Richard M. Daley from someone who is furious about the cougar killing. The Washington Post has an update:

Chicago FBI Special Agent Ross Rice said that "a number of letters were received at various locations throughout the metropolitan area blaming Mayor Daley and others for what the writer called the unnecessary death of the cougar, and threatening to take revenge against the mayor and other individuals."

Rice declined to reveal more details of the letters, one of which was sent to an elementary school near where the animal was killed. The Chicago Sun-Times reported that Daley received a letter mentioning his wife and children and threatening to burn his home.

The FBI is investigating the letters.

--Alice Short

Photo: Chicago Tribune

10:41 AM, May 25, 2008

Barnyard_fowl_are_penned_in_the_b_2Residents of South Los Angeles are discovering that roosters -- and other farm animals -- are joining their neighborhoods. Times staff writer Jessica Garrison reports that not everyone is happy about it.

For many, the image of South Los Angeles is that of a paved, parched, densely packed urban grid. But increasingly, it is also a place where untold numbers of barnyard animals -- chickens, roosters, goats, geese, ducks, pigs and even the odd pony -- are being tended in tiny backyard spaces....

The cacophony of cock-a-doodle-doos south of the 10 Freeway is one of the louder manifestations of a demographic change that has transformed South Los Angeles in the last few decades.

Once primarily an African American community -- and still the cultural and political heart of the state's African American population -- the area has absorbed tens of thousands of immigrants from Mexico and Central America and is now predominantly Latino.

Apparently, one person's comfort (a rooster in the backyard) is another's headache. And in a related story, Times Foreign Editor Marjorie Miller explores some of the wildlife in her Koreantown neighborhood.

-- Alice Short

Photo: Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times

10:00 AM, May 23, 2008

Mountain_lions_seeing_you_too

Authorities say a mountain lion will probably moved to a state wildlife area after it was captured in the back yard of a Sonoma County home, the Associated Press reports:

Deputies and biologists from the California Department of Fish and Game were called out to a home in the community of Aqua Caliente on Thursday when a resident called to report a mountain lion sitting in a tree.

After deputies formed a perimeter around the cat, biologists shot it with a tranquilizer.

Once the woozy mountain lion came out of the tree, it was put it in a wooden box to be relocated.

Biologists have determined the mountain lion was a female, about 2 years old, weighing about 60 pounds.

A few of the latest in mountain lion sightings in California.

-- Francisco Vara-Orta

Photo: George Andrejko/AP

2:43 PM, May 7, 2008

Sue Horton, The Times' deputy Metro editor and resident bird expert, recently took a hike:

Call it our annual miracle.

For the next couple of weeks at least, an array of visiting birds will touch down in Southern California. Some will stay the summer, but most are simply passing through, migrating thousands of miles from Central or South America where they spend the winters, to the boreal forests of Canada where they nest.

What does this mean to you? Dust off your binoculars, because your backyard trees may be playing host Western_tanager_2 to some spectacularly beautiful species.

I live in Echo Park, and Tuesday the pecan trees in our backyard were blooming warblers. There were bright-yellow Wilson's Warblers, stripey Townsend's and Black-throated Greys, clown-like yellow-black-and-white Hermit's.

If you don't have a yard with trees, you might want to head to Griffith Park. The fires that devastated the park a year ago have left a stark and diminished landscape, but they have also made the birds amazingly easy to spot, especially in their bright, breeding plumage.

On an hourlong hike late Monday afternoon, starting from the merry-go-round parking lot, my husband and I saw more than three dozen species, including some of the area's most dazzling visitors.

Heading uphill, the canyon sides were filthy with singing Lazuli Buntings, a gaudy turquoise and orange songbird that will thrill even the most jaded city-dweller. Higher up, we saw half a dozen Western Tanagers, my nomination for the prettiest bird in the metropolis, with a bright yellow body, black wings and a neon orange head.

We saw Western Kingbirds, Ash-throated flycatchers, Bullock's Orioles and three species of woodpecker.

Birding at this time of year is a wonder. But as you take in the splendor, remember to pause a moment to think about how amazing migration really is. Creatures with brains smaller than a marble travel hundreds or thousands of miles, navigating by the stars or using an internal magnetic compass that enables them to navigate by the earth's magnetic fields.

They are hard-wired to get to the right habitat. And I wish we were all hard-wired to appreciate it.

-- Sue Horton

Photo: Chris Pietsch / Associated Press

10:06 AM, April 25, 2008

Mountain_lion

Hayward police are warning the city’s residents about a mountain lion that’s been seen roaming near homes, the Associated Press reports.

The mountain lion was first spotted Sunday evening by a resident living near a large open space in the East Bay hills, police said.

After the resident videotaped what appeared to be a "a big cat," police say state wildlife officials confirmed that it was a mountain lion.

Then, on Wednesday night, another resident in the same neighborhood told police that he saw a mountain lion kill a goat and drag it away.

Police in Hayward, between Oakland and Fremont, are advising people who see the mountain lion to get indoors and call police.

The state Department of Fish and Game's website has extensive information on mountain lions.

-- Francisco Vara-Orta

Photo: Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times

4:14 PM, April 21, 2008

Reggie_the_alligator

Maybe it's the water.

A stray German shepherd that attacked a 15-year-old boy April 13 was captured over the weekend, but not before leading authorities on a pursuit through the waters of Lake Machado, where the famed urban alligator Reggie used to lurk, writes Donna Littlejohn at the Daily Breeze's South Bay Pets blog.

The dog eluded animal services workers for days by swimming through the same Harbor City lake where Reggie the alligator, above, was repeatedly sighted for nearly two years. Reggie was finally captured in 2007, then relocated, via motorcade, to the Los Angeles Zoo.

Animal Services Capt. Daniel Pantoja said officers had tried to catch the dog after the incident was reported to them Wednesday, three days after the attack.

"The dog was very evasive," Pantoja said. "He would swim into the lake to the island, so on Saturday [at 4:30 a.m.] we went out there with a tranquilizer gun."

The tool wasn't needed, though, after authorities were able to move the dog toward the golf course and finally lasso him at about 6:30 a.m.

Littlejohn adds that the dog is now safely housed in a San Pedro animal shelter. Meanwhile, we wonder if his caretakers might want to double-check his enclosure. If he continues acting like Reggie, whom The Times dubbed the "John Dillinger of semi-aquatic reptiles," he might try another escape. For that story read on...

-- Tony Barboza 

Photo: Chuck Bennett / AP / The Daily Breeze

Read more Reggie the alligator's canine imitator in custody »

5:42 PM, April 15, 2008

Chicago_cougar_2

Chicago residents today were puzzled, to say the least, by how a wild cougar had come to roam loose in the city's North Side and suburbs Monday. Officials on Tuesday defended their decision to kill it, the Chicago Tribune reports.

The cougar was a male wild cat, not an escaped captive animal, Cook County Animal and Rabies Control administrator Donna Alexander said Tuesday afternoon.

"He did not have any identifying marks as if he had been owned. He was a wild cat," Alexander said. "He was a pretty vicious guy out there in the wild, fending for himself, so the possibility of an attack was there," Alexander said.

Though it is still unclear where the cougar came from, by late Monday the animal lay dead in an alley, shot by police who said they feared it would attack them.

Chicago Police Capt. Mike Ryan said the cougar tried to attack the officers when they tried to contain it. Police said they could not tranquilize the animal because police officers typically do not carry tranquilizer guns...

"It was turning on the officers," Ryan said. "There was no way to take it into custody."

-- Tony Barboza

Photo: Candice C. Cusic/Chicago Tribune