L.A. Unleashed

All things animal in Southern
California and beyond

Category: Reptiles & Amphibians

Pet insurer holds contest to choose winner of Hambone Award for oddest accident

Stories of pets being goofy abound, but in the pantheon of animal wackiness, few things top the 12 tales being offered up in a pet insurer's contest for most unusual claim of the year. The Veterinary Pet Insurance Co., known as VPI, is asking the public to vote on which of the company's animal clients had the wackiest accident (all the pets survived) in the last 12 months and deserves the Hambone Award. The prize is named for a dog insured by the company that got into a refrigerator and ate an entire ham.

Not surprisingly, several of the dog injuries involved gluttonous eating. This year's contestants include a Santee, Calif., Lab named Ellie, who ate an entire beehive -- which her owners were alerted to when the pooch started vomiting bees. Fortunately, most of the bees that she ate were dead because her feast occurred after an exterminator had sprayed the hive. Nor did the pesticide harm her. She spent a week on antacids and a diet of chicken and rice to recover.

The one cat calamity, of course, involved sneaking into some place the animal shouldn't have been -- in this case, a clothes dryer. An Abyssinian named Sandy in Irvine took a brief spin before her owners heard a weird thumping sound and discovered her in the dryer.  She emerged from the cycle with a couple of bruises and a broken rib.

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Rescuers work to save animals affected by southern Michigan oil spill

Oiled muskrat

MARSHALL, Mich. — Volunteers and government officers scrambled on Friday to save geese and other wildlife damaged by an oil spill in a southern Michigan river as the Canadian company that owns the ruptured pipeline said the crude had been contained.

Enbridge Inc. said its focus was shifting to cleaning up the spilled oil in the Kalamazoo River, which it estimates at 820,000 gallons. The Environmental Protection Agency puts the total at more than 1 million gallons.

Biologists fear the worst may be yet to come for fish in the river. Jay Wesley, a fish biologist with the state of Michigan, said the oil spill had killed fish in "very limited numbers" along the affected stretch of the river from Marshall westward into Battle Creek.

The bigger problems for fish may come within a week or so, if the oil spill results in decreased water oxygen levels. Wesley said insects, algae, frogs and turtles along the river have been killed in high numbers -- which could hurt the fish food supply.

"The effects are probably going to be more long-term," Wesley said. "We probably won't know the full effects for weeks or months or years."

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Drunk Australian man is injured while trying to pet 16-foot saltwater crocodile


PERTH, Australia — A man ejected from a pub in Australia broke into a zoo and climbed onto the back of a crocodile named Fatso, which bit him on the leg but then let him go. Police say they're surprised the croc didn't inflict worse damage.

The 36-year-old man, who police said had just been thrown out of a pub for being drunk, told officials he scaled the barbed wire fence surrounding the Broome Crocodile Park in remote northwest Australia on Monday night because he wanted to give the 16-foot Fatso a pat.

"He has attempted to sit on its back and the croc has taken offense to that and has spun around and bit him on the right leg," Broome Police Sgt. Roger Haynes said.

The saltwater crocodile then inexplicably let the man go, and he climbed back over the fence to safety, police said.

The man, who was a tourist from eastern Australia and whose name was not released, suffered some "very nasty lacerations" and was taken to a hospital, Haynes said.

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First batch of sea turtle hatchlings rescued from beaches near gulf oil spill are released

Kemp's ridley sea turtle hatchlings are released in Cape Canaveral

The first group of sea turtles that are part of a sweeping effort to save threatened and endangered hatchlings from death in the oily Gulf of Mexico have been released into the Atlantic Ocean.

Fifty-six endangered Kemp's ridley turtles were released on a beach at Florida's Canaveral National Seashore this week, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said Thursday.

Sixty-seven eggs were collected June 26 from a nest along the Florida Panhandle and brought to a temperature-controlled warehouse at NASA's Kennedy Space Center, but only the 56 hatched. State and federal officials plan to bring thousands more eggs for incubation in the coming months.

It is part of an overall plan to pluck some 70,000 eggs from sea turtle nests on beaches in Alabama and Florida before they hatch and swim out into the oil from the April 20 Deepwater Horizon rig explosion off Louisiana. NASA has about 1,100 eggs incubating at the space center site.

Scientists fear that if left alone, the hatchlings most would likely die in the crude, killing off an entire generation of an already imperiled species.

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Rescuers work to save the youngest oiled birds, sea turtles following gulf oil spill

Pelican chick

FT. JACKSON, La. — The smallest victims are the biggest challenge for crews rescuing birds fouled with oil from the Gulf of Mexico spill.

There's no way to know how many chicks have been killed by the oil, or starved because their parents were rescued or died struggling in a slick.

"There are plenty of oiled babies out there," said Rebecca Dmytryk of the International Bird Rescue Research Center, one of the groups working to clean oiled animals.

The lucky ones end up in a cleaning center at Fort Jackson, a pre-Civil War historic site on the Mississippi River Delta south of New Orleans.

Pelican chicks often come in cold because oil has matted down the fluffy down that's meant to keep them warm. They must be warmed quickly just to survive long enough to be cleaned. And the youngest must be taught to eat.

"They only know their parents regurgitating food into their mouths. They don't know how to pick stuff up," said Dmytryk, whose organization is working with Tri-State Bird Rescue, a company hired by BP to coordinate animal rescue and cleaning in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.

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San Francisco's proposed ban on sales of most pets creates a furor

Puppy and kitty

SAN FRANCISCO — As Philip Gerrie tells it, the idea of banning pet sales in San Francisco started simply enough, with a proposal to outlaw puppy and kitten mills.

West Hollywood had done it, with little fanfare. Why not the city of St. Francis, patron saint of animals, which prides itself on its compassion toward all creatures great and small?

So Gerrie, a beekeeper and secretary of the San Francisco Commission of Animal Control & Welfare, a seven-member advisory board on animal issues to the city's lawmakers, decided to suggest adding the idea to the commission's agenda.

"Then we came across the idea of adding small animals as well," Gerrie recalled, "since all these animals are being euthanized" by animal shelters.

The proposed ban on puppy and kitten mills became a proposed ban on the sale of just about every animal that might end up in a shelter: gerbils, guinea pigs, birds, hamsters, turtles, snakes, rats. Sales of rabbits and chicks are already banned in the city.

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Proposal to protect California critical habitat for arroyo toad could cost $789 million, study says

Arroyo VENTURA, Calif. — A federal study says efforts to protect the endangered arroyo toad in Southern California could cost $789 million over 25 years.

A U.S. Fish and Wildlife analysis issued last month looked at a revised proposal to protect more than 112,000 acres of critical habitat for the toad in Santa Barbara, Ventura, Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Riverside, Orange and San Diego counties.

The analysis says proposed restrictions would impact the economy by making it costlier to develop land and delaying construction.

Fish and Wildlife has twice revised the amount of land that it proposes should be protected as habitat for the 2-inch toad after lawsuits by the building industry and a preservation group.

Comments on the proposal can be submitted to the agency by July 28.

Toads may be able to predict earthquakes, new research suggests
Bizarre battle rages in Australia over how best to kill the invasive, poisonous cane toad

-- Associated Press

Photo: An arroyo toad near Ventura in an undated file photo. Credit: Spencer Weiner / Los Angeles Times

Tens of thousands of sea turtle eggs to be moved from Gulf Coast in wake of oil spill

Kemp's Ridley sea turtle hatchling PENSACOLA BEACH, Fla. — An effort to save thousands of sea turtle hatchlings from dying in the oily Gulf of Mexico will begin in the coming weeks in a desperate attempt to keep an entire generation of threatened species from vanishing.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will coordinate the plan, which calls for collecting about 70,000 turtle eggs in up to 800 nests buried in the sand across Florida Panhandle and Alabama beaches.

It's never been done on such a massive scale. But doing nothing, experts say, could lead to unprecedented deaths. There are fears the turtles would be coated in oil and poisoned by crude-soaked food.

"This is an extraordinary effort under extraordinary conditions, but if we can save some of the hatchlings, it will be worth it as opposed to losing all of them," said Chuck Underwood of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

"We have a much higher degree of certainty that if we do nothing and we allow these turtles to emerge and go into the gulf and into the oil ... that we could in fact lose most of them, if not all of them," he added. "There's a chance of losing a whole generation."

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Video goodness: Determined tortoise helps to right a fellow tortoise that flipped onto its back

We're forever in reader Lee B.'s debt for drawing our attention to this amazing demonstration of the goodness of animals.

We couldn't believe our eyes as one tortoise worked to help the other regain its footing. (We're a bit flummoxed as to why the person holding the video camera didn't just help the wrong-side-up tortoise him- or herself, but we're impressed by the video result, nonetheless.)

Helpful Tortoise may just be our new hero -- and Lee B., we owe you a plate of vegan cookies! (Note: We do not actually bake, so they might have to remain virtual vegan cookies. Sorry about that!)

Video goodness: The matchup of the century, a real-life tortoise-vs.-rabbit race
Your morning adorable: Persistent tortoise chases a tomato

-- Lindsay Barnett

Video: ZedgarDOS via YouTube

Family recovers turtle kicked off AirTran flight

Turtle1 ATLANTA — A caged, 2-inch turtle traveling with a 10-year-old girl caused a crew to turn around a taxiing plane, take the girl and her sisters off the flight and tell them they couldn't bring their pet along.

The sisters threw the animal and cage in the trash and returned to their seats crying Tuesday after AirTran Airways employees on the jetway said they couldn't care for the turtle while their father drove to retrieve it. Two days later, however, Carley Helm was reunited with Neytiri even though at first the family thought the pet was emptied with the trash.

Carley was heading home to Milwaukee after visiting her father in Atlanta with sisters Annie, 13, and Rebecca, 22, when the flap unfolded.

Rebecca said the three were led onto the jetway and told they'd have to get rid of the baby red-eared slider -- named Neytiri after the princess in the movie "Avatar" -- if they wanted to reboard.

"I asked, 'What do you mean get rid of it?' and they said throw it away," she said. "I was very sad, and I felt bad for my littlest sister because it was her first pet and she was planning to take care of it herself."

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