L.A. Unleashed

All things animal in Southern
California and beyond

Category: WebClawer

WebClawer: France in trouble with EU over giant hamsters; fugitive hog turns up in swimming pool; students photograph desert tortoises

California desert tortoise

Animals are making news all over the world today, from tortoises here in Southern California to giant hamsters in France.  A few stories that caught our attention today:

-- Students from seven Southern California high schools have embarked on an innovative project -- documenting the lives of California desert tortoises through digital photography.  The resulting portraits will be placed on exhibit in the Mojave National Preserve's historic Kelso Depot Desert Light Gallery in February.  "I'll never go into the desert again with the mind I had when I started the program," high school junior and aspiring photographer Keya Cason said. "I always thought the desert was just heat and dirt. Now I see how beautiful its plants, creatures and landscapes really are."  (Greenspace)

-- France is in trouble with the European Union over its treatment of hamsters -- yes, you read that right.  The Alsace hamster, also known as the European hamster, is a larger cousin of the domestic hamsters we know (it measures about 8-14 inches long).  It's also in danger of extinction, and the EU's executive body says France hasn't done enough to safeguard it.  According to the EU, Alsace hamsters currently occupy a tiny, 8,500-acre area in an eastern French region -- but they need about 600,000 acres of protected land to thrive.  France could face a hefty fine over the animals, whose numbers total less than 200 in the region.  (Telegraph )

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WebClawer: Pair shot puppy to skin it, Susan Boyle loves her cat, Thailand loves to sell ivory

Animals are all over the news once again today; we only wish we could tell you that all the stories are happy ones.

-- Don't they have Wal-Marts in Oklahoma any more? Two Oklahoma residents were charged Tuesday after they shot a Jack Russell puppy 10 times and then skinned him, allegedly to make a belt. Poplin was just 7 weeks old when Austin Michael Mullins shot him and Krystal Lynn Lewis skinned the pup and nailed the hide to a board in her apartment. Although Lewis claims she had the puppy killed because she didn't feel that the pair could afford to keep it, the local newspaper is reporting that investigators seem to think that it had something to do with the fact that Poplin was a gift from a female ex-lover of Lewis' who is now estranged. (News OK)

-- In the market for some (illegal) ivory? Thailand is still the place for your black market elephant tusks. According to a report by Traffic, a wildlife trade monitoring group, despite cutting down from 88,000 pieces in 2001, Thailand is still responsible for 26,000 pieces this year so far. Reuters writes, "The report said Bangkok should close 'elephant-sized loopholes' in its wildlife protection laws that enable sellers to pass off illegal ivory as coming from a legal source of domesticated animals." (Reuters)

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WebClawer, the cat edition: Sockington takes Twitter by storm, cat falls 26 stories and lives, winged cat found in China

Sockington

Maybe it's just coincidence, or maybe cats' belief in their own superiority is rubbing off on the rest of the world -- either way, they seem to have taken over the news lately.  And we're not just talking viral video:

-- Sockington the cat may not quite be at Ashton Kutcher's level yet, but he's become something of a Twitter sensation nonetheless.  Sockington's 140-characters-or-fewer musings have amassed him a following of more than half a million (sample Tweet: "DID YOU HEAR THE ONE ABOUT THE TIME YOU WANTED TO SIT SOMEWHERE AND I WAS THERE ALREADY well you have now zzzzzzzzzzzzzz").  While the Twitter-pet phenomenon is a bit of a mystery to us (many of @LATunleashed's followers are of the feline and canine persuasions, so we've given the matter some thought), we can't help but be impressed by Sockington's success.  "He's kind of functioning like a 'Garfield' comic," says his owner (and, we assume, typist) Jason Scott. "He's like the 21st century Garfield."  (Associated Press)

-- A cat in the Chinese city of Chongqing apparently began to sprout prominent "wings" from his shoulders when he was about a year old.  (Don't worry: cats' bone structure is heavy enough to prevent them from flying, wings or not.)  One Simpsons-esque theory for the strange growths is that the cat's mother was exposed to mutation-causing chemicals before his birth; Chongqing is one of the world's most heavily polluted cities.  Another, perhaps equally creepy, theory is that the strange appendages actually represent the body of a kitty sibling that never fully formed in utero.  (Discover )

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WebClawer, the snake edition: Teen uses snake as jump rope; snake causes power outages, survives shock; venom as skin care?

A two-headed snake, born in Northlands Pets pet shop

Snakes have slithered their way into news stories all around the globe recently. Their stories, ranging from the slightly strange to the downright absurd:

-- A Pittsburgh high school student stole an albino corn snake from a biology class and swung it around. The story was made even stranger by police reports of the student using the snake as a jump rope. The 17-year-old student faces theft and animal cruelty charges.  (The snake was, fortunately, unharmed.)  (Associated Press)

-- In Spain, a team of officers is waiting for up to three days for snake venom antidote to arrive from Mexico before raiding an apartment full of snakes. After the owner was admitted to a hospital for a rattlesnake wound, he reportedly told police he had two pythons, five boa constrictors and a rattlesnake in the apartment. The man was released but is expected to be charged with possession of dangerous reptiles. (United Press International)

-- In the northeastern Missouri town of Hannibal (that's right: former home of one Samuel Clemens), a large snake caused two power outages by entangling itself in the power lines. Despite being shocked by 13,800 volts, the snake survived. (Associated Press)

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WebClawer, the spider edition: Happy face spiders, scientists toughen spider silk with metal, "zombie" spiders survive drowning

Golden orb weaver spider Are spiders taking over the world?  Well, no.  But you wouldn't know that to look at the headlines from around the globe today:

-- Researchers at France's University of Rennes wondered why some species of spider were able to survive long periods of time underwater.  They conceived a study wherein members of three species of wolf spider were immersed in sea water for periods of 24 hours or more.  What happened next, quite frankly, terrifies us to our very souls.  The scientists, hoping to weigh the spiders they believed to be dead, removed them from the water.  Hours later, the spiders twitched back to life.  "This is the first time we know of arthropods returning to life from comas after submersion," lead researcher Julien Pétillon said.  And it gets worse: according to Pétillon, there "could be many other species that could do this that we do not know of yet."  (National Geographic)

-- A tiny arachnid called the Hawaiian happy face spider looks the way its name suggests it would. Researchers are studying the spiders to learn how and why they would have developed such markings. A leading theory is that the smiley-face design confuses potential predators, perhaps giving them momentary pause -- and the spiders a chance to escape. Regardless of the reasons, ecologists say the cheerful-looking spiders are a powerful symbol for conservation. "They are ambassadors for all the threatened invertebrates, insects and spiders on Hawaii," said Dr. Geoff Oxford of the University of York. "Conservationists are using them to highlight the plight of native species, and you can't go far on the islands without seeing them on T-shirts, baseball caps, post cards and even removal trucks." (Telegraph )

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WebClawer: Research vessel strikes whale; prehistoric seal with arms discovered; Oregon dog maces family

Fearing

From whales to spiders to prehistoric seals, the Web is full of animal news today:

-- Jennifer Fearing is a force to be reckoned with and a rising star in the animal protection movement.  Fearing, who holds a Harvard graduate degree and left a high-paying job at a consulting firm to work for the group United Animal Nations in 2003, became the chief economist at the Humane Society of the United States a few years later.  Last year, she ran the Humane Society's Proposition 2 campaign; now, she's its lobbyist in Sacramento.  Fearing is an unlikely staffer at the predominantly liberal-leaning Humane Society; raised a Republican, Air Force brat and devout Protestant in the Midwest, she once interned for the senior President Bush. (Fearing grew disillusioned with the GOP a few years back and registered Independent, she says.)  Our colleague Eric Bailey has a great and insightful interview with the Humane Society's dynamo. (L.A. Times)

-- A research vessel for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration -- a federal agency charged with protecting whales -- struck an endangered right whale off the Massachusetts coast.  The ship's propeller lacerated the whale's fluke, although its injuries didn't appear life-threatening. Right whales are considered especially susceptible to injury by boat; indeed, ship strikes are the leading cause of death for the species.  "To me, if it can happen to NOAA, it can happen to anybody," said Regina Asmutis-Silvia of the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society. "Therefore, everybody needs to up the ante and up their vigilance and take the issue much more seriously." (Telegraph)

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WebClawer: Bulldog beauty contest crowns its winner, hunter gets lifetime ban, PETA vs. KFC in chicken dance battle

Daisy From "beautiful" bulldogs to fire-starting birds, the Web is full of animal news today:

-- A bulldog named Porterhouse was finally victorious in Drake University's annual Beautiful Bulldog Contest; he's been runner-up twice and even won the "Mr. Congeniality" crown once.  Victory was undoubtedly sweet for this 4-year-old, who beat 49 other bulldogs to win the title.  A bulldog is the Drake University mascot, and the contest coincides with the yearly Drake Relays event.  Porterhouse wore a camouflage outfit and army helmet for the festivities; other competitors were decked out in tutus, wigs and even a flower costume (Daisy Bear, right). "He's handsome -- we think anyway," owner Erin Bell said of Porterhouse. "He's got the look, I think, of the Drake bulldog."  (Associated Press)

-- As Thoroughbred racing's Triple Crown season approaches, sports columnist Bill Dwyre muses on the current state of horse racing.  Many of the nation's most famous tracks are in dire financial trouble, and recent scandals involving prominent owners and trainers have cast a pall over the upcoming running of the Kentucky Derby.  (L.A. Times)

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WebClawer: Cesar Millan's advice to the Obamas, Puppy Bowl announcer Harry Kalas dies, U.K. cat chooses vegetarian diet

Cesar Millan at Dog Whisperer headquarters From Bo the First Dog to an unusual U.K. cat, animals are making headlines all over the world today.  These are a few of the stories that grabbed our attention:

-- Dog Whisperer (and new U.S. citizen) Cesar Millan has some words of wisdom for the Obama family as they get settled with their new Portuguese water dog puppy, Bo.  "The best piece of advice I can give the Obama family is wisdom passed down from my grandfather: Never work against Mother Nature," Millan said. "Fulfill your dog's inborn needs -- exercise, discipline, affection, in that order -- and you will have the foundation for a balanced human-canine relationship."  Millan also singled out Malia Obama, saying he was "impressed to hear [she] had done her research in advance."  (People Pets)

-- Sportscaster Harry Kalas died today at age 73.  Kalas was undoubtedly best known as the voice of the Philadelphia Phillies; he also narrated NFL films and radio broadcasts.  But animal lovers may be more familiar with his work on another "sporting" event: Animal Planet's annual Puppy Bowl.  "Players come and go, but 'Outta here!' -- that's forever," said Scott Franzke, a Phillies radio broadcaster.  (L.A. Times)

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WebClawer: Michael Vick goes to bankruptcy court, Facebook-famous sea otter released, Wisconsin says 'please don't feed the squirrels'

Pit

From a freshly rehabilitated sea otter to an in-need-of-rehabilitation manatee to squirrels to ... squirrels again, the animal kingdom is making all sorts of news today:

-- Former Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick, whose bankrolling of a dogfighting ring led to a 23-month jail sentence which he is currently serving, appeared in bankruptcy court last week.  During the hearing, his lawyer Michael Blumenthal told U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Frank J. Santoro that Vick has lined up a $10-an-hour construction job which he will begin upon his release from prison.  Vick's sentence ends in July, but reports suggest that he could serve his final few months at home due to lack of space at a halfway house.  John Robert Lawson, a longtime friend of Vick's who will be his employer at the W.M. Jordan construction company, said the fallen football hero should be given a second chance.  "He's not a bad person. He made some bad choices," Lawson said.  (Associated Press)

-- Officials from the California Department of Fish and Game have released Olive, a sea otter who amassed a Facebook following after washing up on a Monterey beach coated in oil from a natural oil seep.  Olive swam into the ocean off Sunset State Beach this morning after six weeks of rehabilitation at the Marine Wildlife Veterinary Care and Research Center in Santa Cruz. "Olive ... taught us a great deal about the pollution-related problems sea otters face," DFG veterinarian Dave Jessup said of the otter, who by this afternoon was reportedly "acclimating well and currently resting."  (Greenspace)

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WebClawer: U.K. cow escapes slaughter, orcas turn up in the Gulf of Mexico, Oprah Winfrey's parvovirus-afflicted puppy returns home

Alysheba

From a plucky cow to a rare killer whale sighting (with some good news for an ailing puppy thrown in), animal news is all over the Web today:

-- Alysheba, the Thoroughbred racehorse that won two legs of the Triple Crown in 1987 and earned the nickname "America's Horse," died Friday at age 25.  At the time of his retirement, Alysheba was horse racing's all-time top money winner; his winnings totaled more than $6.6 million from a career 26 races.  His sire (father) was another legendary racehorse, Alydar.  "He looked majestic on the track," jockey Chris McCarron recalled. "He'd stop and let people take photographs. I believe he loved it."  Alysheba fell in his stall, apparently as a result of a chronic degenerative spinal condition, injuring a rear leg.  The decision was made to euthanize him since the injury caused him severe pain and he was unable to stand without support.  He was buried Saturday at Kentucky Horse Park's Hall of Champions.  ESPN

-- A female Highland cow that escaped slaughter and spent nine months living in the wild has a new home: The Hillside Animal Sanctuary in Norfolk.  The cow, named Floss, was purchased at a U.K. market and takento a beef ranch.  She escaped and was sighted sporadically as she traveled approximately 60 miles.  "She is quite a cow, she remained free by finding some really good hidey-holes," said Tracey Jaine, who with friend Sue McAuley raised £500 to buy Floss from her owner and "retire" her to the sanctuary.  "She would hide in the bushes on a piece of land used for paint-balling and then would only come out at night to find food.  She walked through drainage ditches to reach farmland where she would pinch hay from a stable.  One of the locals told me how she moved on from Keadby because the boys on quad bikes who used the isolated land would drive at her and scare her."  Eventually Jaine was able to befriend Floss, who was then tranquilized by a local veterinarian and taken to Hillside.  "Floss trotted off the back of the trailer and it was the most wonderful thing," Jaine recalled of the cow's release.  "She ran straight towards the other Highland cows and the hay."  Telegraph

-- Charter boat captain Eddie Hall was shocked to discover approximately 200 orcas feeding on tuna in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico.  "It was like being at Sea World because they'd come right up to the boat,” Hall said of the sighting last October, which created such a stir that an informational meeting was held for members of the public in Orange Beach, Ala., last week. "It was pretty neat."  Contrary to common belief, the whales have probably lived in the deep waters off the Gulf Coast for years, according to U.S. government biologist Keith Mullin.  The whales are typically thought to live in cold waters and eat primarily seals.  Associated Press

-- Sadie, the cocker spaniel puppy recently adopted from a Chicago-area shelter by Oprah Winfrey, is back at home and "doing well" following a bout with the highly contagious disease parvovirus.  Sadie's littermate Ivan was also adopted by Winfrey, but died shortly thereafter as a result of the disease commonly known as parvo.  "We had some ... nights where we thought she might not make it," Winfrey recalled of Sadie's illness on her talk show.  People Pets

--Lindsay Barnett

Photo: Alysheba, left, with jockey Chris McCarron aboard, heads for the finish line ahead of Bet Twice to win the 1987 running of the Kentucky Derby.  Credit: Bob Daugherty/Associated Press.

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