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In August 1951, a wire-service story appeared in numerous newspapers about a six-year-old cat named Tom that found its way back to its owners by walking across the entire United States.

Mr. and Mrs Charles Smith lived in St. Petersburg, Florida, but in 1949 they had to move to San Gabriel, California. For some reason, they couldn't take their cat with them, so they made arrangements for the man buying their house to adopt him. Two weeks after the move, they got a call from the new owner, telling them Tom had run away.

Fast-forward two years. The Smiths hear a cat meowing in their driveway. They go outside and, lo and behold, it's old Tom! Skinny and tired, but happy to see his family.

As far as I can tell, the press accepted this story at face value. Though if you think about it, the idea of it is absurd. The cat would have had to travel around 4 miles every day, having no idea where it was going, crossing deserts and mountains. I'd say that's impossible.

The more logical explanation is that a cat resembling Tom started meowing in the Smith's driveway, and the Smiths decided it was Tom. After two years, they probably only had a vague recollection of what Tom even looked like. And the press, once they got wind of the story, didn't ask too many questions. After all, why let logic get in the way of a good story!




15-month-old Pat Smith with 'Tom'


Here Elizabeth Smith is introducing 'Tom' to the fish bowl as a test.
The old Tom turned his nose up at raw fish, and apparently so did the new Tom.
(via USC Archive)


Spokane Daily Chronicle, Aug 3, 1951
Categories: Animals
Posted by Alex on Mon Jun 11, 2012
Comments (11)

A picture of a black lion has recently been circulating online. Black lions are not biologically impossible. In fact, there have been scattered reports of black lions over the centuries. However, the lion in this picture is actually a white lion colored black through photo manipulation.

The original image of a white lion was posted at cutehomepets.com. It was then transformed into a black lion by "PAulie-SVK" and posted at deviantart.com earlier this year. From there it spread to Facebook, reddit, etc.


Messybeast.com offers some interesting info on the science and history of black lions:

There is a mid 19th century report of a very large "black" Persian lion seen by the archaeologist Sir Henry Layard; he described it as "very dark brown in colour, in parts almost black." Lions are no longer found in that region. This may have been related to the Barbary lion (now extinct in the wild) which is larger than African lions and famed for their extensive black manes stretching from chest to groin.

A partly black lion was born at Glasgow (Scotland) zoo, but was infertile. His colour was probably due to somatic mosaicism (abnormal skin cells). The lion had a pitch black patch extending the length of the inside front leg and across the chest. Somatic mosaicism causes some patches of skin to develop abnormal pigmentation. This anomaly also occurs in domestic cats and accounts for some of the few fertile tortoiseshell male cats.

Called "Ranger" (he was sponsored by Glasgow Rangers Football Club), he was born at Glasgow Zoo in about 1975, the offspring of some lions acquired from Manchester's Belle Vue Zoo. At birth, the lion exhibited a melanistic patch which stretched from his right paw, all the way up the inside of his leg and across his chest. It was believed to be the first time melanism, even partial melanism, had been recorded in the African lion (apart from anecdotal cases). Ranger , frequently mated but failed to impregnate a proven fertile female. Zoo staff believed he had a chromosome abnormality. Ranger was put to sleep in 1997 and sent for post mortem at Glasgow Vet School...

Black lions, chocolate brown lions and reddish brown lions have been reported. A very dark brown, almost black lion was reported in Persia (Iran) and a black lioness was reported in the African bush (Okovango). There have even been reports of whole prides of dark brown or black lions; prides comprise closely related lionesses therefore this could be a familial trait. Genetically, lions are spotted cats (residual spots can be seen on tawny lions on the limbs and sometimes on the body) and it's possible that excessively spotted cubs (abundism) might grow into adults with a sooty cast on the fur...

Many reports of black lions (and other black big cats) are due to observation in either poor light or with strong sunlight behind the cat.
Categories: Animals, Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Tue Jun 05, 2012
Comments (5)

Nettie has informed me that ThinkGeek is selling Bonsai Kittens. They're stuffed toys. Therefore, "No cats kittens or kittehs were harmed in the creation of this product." Still, it's seems to be like waving a red flag in PETA's face. They must figure that enough time has passed so that all the furor over bonsai kittens has calmed down.

In fact, ThinkGeek also seems to have acquired the bonsaikitten.com domain name. I guess no one else wanted it. The last time I checked it had become a spam portal, with a few ads for cat food and pet medications on it. However, ThinkGeek aren't hosting the original site there. Instead the URL forwards you directly to ThinkGeek's product page for their bonsai kitten dolls.

I remember when the Bonsai Kitten site debuted back in 2000, and people were absolutely apoplectic about it. I posted a description of it here on the site, pointing out that it was a hoax, and that was enough for me to start receiving quite a few email threats, from people describing how they were going to stuff me in a little glass jar to see how I would like it. They must have thought that I was somehow supporting the site rather than debunking it.

I may have to get a few of these dolls for old times sake.


The original bonsai kittens


Update: Something weird is going on with the bonsaikitten.com URL. The link I posted here redirects people to ThinkGeek. But I posted the same link on twitter, and that directs people to a spam site. I don't know why.
Categories: Animals, Products
Posted by Alex on Mon May 07, 2012
Comments (7)
Several pictures of a cat with a cat-shaped mark on its back have circulated online for a couple of years.


There's also a version of the image with arabic writing on it, that's currently doing the rounds on facebook.


I don't know the cat's name, but the cat has a Japanese owner who keeps a blog, ameblo.jp/usousopp, devoted to posting pictures of it. There are hundreds of pictures of the cat up there. And here's the strange thing. In the two pictures of the cat that are circulating, the marking clearly resembles a cat. But in the pictures of the cat on the ameblo.jp blog, the marking looks slightly different. The pointy ears on the marking are gone, so the marking no longer looks as much like a cat. Though when viewed upside down, it resembles a question mark.

 


Perhaps the pointy-ear effect in the two photos was caused by the way the cat's skin folded. Or perhaps someone photoshopped the ears in. I'm not sure, though I'm leaning towards photoshop. I searched the site to see if I could find the pointy-ear-marking photos. (The site has an image browser feature which made searching pretty easy.) I wanted to see if the originals differed from the versions in circulation. But I couldn't find them on the site.
Categories: Animals, Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Fri May 04, 2012
Comments (4)
Imagine you're going about your day, minding your own business, when all of a sudden, out of nowhere, there's a goat! That's the premise of the goat prank that's become a tradition in Spokane, Washington. The link includes a video of a Spokane anchorwoman who keeps repeating excitedly, "I've been goated! I've been goated!":

Surprise! You Have Just Been 'Goated!'
khq.com

Spokane community members have the opportunity to play a great practical joke by having a real baby goat delivered to offices or meetings. A $50 donation to Wishing Star will send a goat to an unsuspecting friend or co-worker on the day of choice. The recipient will be asked to make a donation to Wishing Star to pay for the removal of the goat. Last year Wishing Star was able to raise over $20,000 through 'goating,' with five to six goats traveling to offices throughout Spokane each day.
Categories: Animals, Pranks
Posted by Alex on Fri May 04, 2012
Comments (1)

When I first saw this image, I immediately wondered whether giraffes can jump. I did some googling and eventually found Giraffes by Nicole Helget in which she addresses this question:

A giraffe can also jump, clearing heights of up to five feet (1.5 m). This capability is important, now that many cattle fences have been built in Africa. The neck helps propel the giraffe over obstacles. To jump, the giraffe first pulls its neck back, putting most of its weight over the hind legs. Then it thrusts the neck forward, lifts its front legs, and pushes off with its hind legs.

Knowing that giraffes can jump then made me wonder whether the image could possibly be real — though it looks like the giraffe is leaping higher than five feet. But it didn't take me long to track down the source of the picture. It was created by "c_kick" as part of a giraffe-themed b3ta.com photoshop challenge. (It's also posted on c_kick's personal website, totalleh.com.)

But this is where the photo investigation got a bit strange, because in the course of tracking down the source of the image I found an older picture from which c_kick presumably cut-and-pasted the leaping giraffe. And this older image is more puzzling than the leaping giraffe one. It shows a giraffe that looks like it's trying to mate with a donkey.


The giraffes in the two pictures are definitely one and the same. That's easy to see when the two photos are placed side-by-side.


And the mating-giraffe picture is definitely older than the leaping-giraffe one, which c_kick created in July 2010. There are discussions of the mating-giraffe pic that date back to early 2008. Most of these "discussions" are along the lines of, "OMG Epic FAIL!!!!" But I did find one intelligent discussion of the picture posted by Darren Naish on the Tetrapod Zoology blog in November 2008.

Darren notes that attempted interspecies matings are far more common than people think, especially in captivity. But in the comments left on his post, people note that the giraffe in the picture appears to be a female. Therefore, it wouldn't be mating with the donkey. Though it might be a case of "assertive dominance" or "fake humping". But others are doubtful that the giraffe and donkey are even making contact, since the donkey seems strangely unconcerned about what's happening. Forced perspective could be making the two animals appear closer than they really were.

And finally, the question is raised of whether this mating-giraffe picture is even real. Is it photoshopped? Felicia asks: "Where the hell are the giraffe's front legs? It's not on its knees and the legs are not splayed - they point straight into the ground."

That's a good question. Where are the giraffe's front legs?

So it could be that both images featuring the giraffe are photoshopped. Though I'm not yet completely convinced the mating one is. I suspect that the angle of the shot could be hiding the giraffe's legs — for instance, if the ground on which the giraffe is standing slopes downward. To fully settle the question, one would need some kind of fancy forensic photo-analysis software, which I don't have.

So that's where my research into the leaping and mating giraffe ends. But while I'm on the subject of giraffes, here are some other fake giraffe pictures I found while browsing through giraffe images on google:





Categories: Animals, Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Tue May 01, 2012
Comments (2)

This is one of those photos that looks so surreal you'd think it has to be photoshopped, but it's real. It was taken earlier today in Colorado. Although it looks like the bear might be bouncing on a trampoline, it's actually falling onto a thick mat:

Bear tranquilized in tree near Williams Village
cuindependent.com

The bear managed to climb up a tree near the dorms where it stayed for about two and a half hours. Wildlife officials were able to safely tranquilize the bear at 10:17 a.m. and the bear fell onto mats provided by the Recreation Center at approximately 10:28 a.m.
"[The bear] was tranquilized by the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Department and it fell onto some mats that the Rec Center provided," Huff said. "It is now in a cage and it will be relocated at a higher elevation."
Categories: Animals, Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Thu Apr 26, 2012
Comments (3)
This is a bit like something out of a Philip K. Dick novel -- The Dream Park El Janoob Zoo in the Gaza Strip can no longer afford to display live animals. And it's difficult to import animals into Gaza. So the zoo owner has decided to display taxidermied animals. An advantage of this is that zoo visitors can pet the animals, without having their limbs torn off, as might happen with live animals. Link: Al Arabiya



Categories: Animals
Posted by Alex on Mon Apr 23, 2012
Comments (3)
If you happen to be a young woman in Namibia, watch out for a middle-aged Indian man who may try to strike up a friendship with you. Before too long, he may whip out his breast-sucking turtle. It happened to Lina Sames (link: informante.web.na):

Sames, a domestic worker, related how the mysterious man suddenly produced a live turtle, no bigger than the average grown up's hand and pressed the reptile against the victim's right breast. "It proceeded to suck, while at the same time growing bigger. I was then forced to drink blood from the turtle," a traumatized Sames said.

And this has happened before!

The folklore surrounding the breast-sucking turtle first surfaced late last year, after a young woman was lured with the promise of a shopping spree into breast-feeding a turtle on the northern outskirts of Windhoek. Although she was rumoured to have been admitted to Windhoek state hospital and later died, this could not be verified.

The story resembles what folklorists call the "bosom serpent" legend. Bosom serpent legends usually involve a woman ingesting the eggs of a serpent (or other scary creature) and then later giving birth to it (or having the creature somehow emerge from her). In the tale of the Namibian turtles, the women aren't giving birth to the turtles, but they are mothering them in a horrifying way. So like a bosom-serpent legend, the tale of the Namibian breast-sucking turtle seems to emerge out of fears and fantasies of pregnancy and motherhood. Why the stories are focusing on a turtle, of all things, I have no idea.

Categories: Animals, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Sat Apr 21, 2012
Comments (1)
I received an email from Peter Barss recounting a 1985 April Fool's Day hoax he was involved in. It's a great story, so I'll let him tell it in his own words:

In 1985 the Bridgewater Bulletin had an April Fool's front page. Turn over the bogus page and there was the true front page with the day's news. One reporter created an image of a twelve foot starfish climbing out of the sea and up the side of a fisherman's building. Another wrote a story about an international airport that would be constructed just outside Bridgewater (Nova Scotia). That story made it to the provincial legislature where the Minister of Transportation stood and demanded why he hadn't been told about the airport.

My story, a feature on the upcoming Annual Whale Migration, was the longest article and caused the most consternation in our readership. The Lahave River is a wide slow-moving tidal river that runs inland from the sea about twelve miles from LaHave to Bridgewater and then turns into a smaller, faster moving river whose source is about fifteen miles further inland from Bridgewater. The distance from LaHave on the Atlantic side of Nova Scotia to the Bay of Fundy on the other side of the province is about 75 miles.

The central idea of my story was that whales, driven by instinct, migrate up the LaHave River and then overland to the Bay of Fundy every spring. The Department of Natural Resources was kept busy for weeks before the migration cutting a pathway through trees and brush to assist the whales in their overland journey. The department also applied grease on slopes facing the Bay of Fundy so that the whales could slide downhill.

As the day of the migration neared, plans were in the works for pancake festivals and other festivities along the banks of the LaHave River. Free balloons for the kids. The elderly Miss Whale Migration 1928 would be on the lead float in the grand parade that celebrated the whale migration.

Every article on the bogus front page and every cutline under every picture ended with "Happy April Fool's Day."

Nevertheless, the joke was taken very seriously by some people--more than one person bought a pair of binoculars to watch the whales. And when those who had been tricked figured out that they had been tricked there were many angry calls to the paper and not a few subscription cancellations.

Each year two young boys were chosen from the village of LaHave to watch for the whales and fire the cannon at the mouth the LaHave River when they sighted the first whales (see arrow). The attached picture (with arrow pointing to whales) was on the front page of the April Fool's Bulletin. The boys are my sons who agreed to pose for this picture before school.


Categories: Animals, April Fools Day, Folklore/Tall Tales
Posted by Alex on Tue Apr 03, 2012
Comments (3)
For over three years, Eternal Earth-Bound Pets has been offering peace of mind to Rapture believers. Should the Rapture come, and the devout are whisked away up to Heaven, this service will take care of their pets that are left behind — for a small fee of $135 per pet.

But now Bloomberg News is reporting that the business was all just a hoax concocted by Bart Centre, a retired retail executive in New Hampshire, in order to promote his book, The Atheist Camel Chronicles. Bloomberg quotes him as saying:

The entire thing was a hoax. What we call on the Internet a poe, a spoof, a parody, a complete fiction. It was all a fiction from the very start. I never had any intent to accept contracts for our service or payment for our service and I never did... I was so concerned that people would actually pay me for the service that I eventually disabled the payment button.

Centre also explains that he's revealing the hoax now because, "the State of New Hampshire’s Insurance Department has asked me to discuss my ‘insurance’ offering... and provide them with all the names of NH clients who have signed on and paid for my pet rescue post rapture service."

It's a shame. I thought the service sounded like a good idea, and a perfectly reasonable business proposition. If someone believes the rapture is on its way, why shouldn't they pay to have their pets taken care of post-rapture?

Categories: Animals, Religion, Websites
Posted by Alex on Sat Mar 17, 2012
Comments (2)
The following photo and caption has recently begun to circulate online. It's all over Facebook.

bullfighter

"And suddenly, I looked at the bull. He had this innocence... that all animals have in their eyes, and he looked at me with this pleading. It was like a cry for justice, deep down inside of me. I describe it as being like a prayer - because if one confesses, it is hoped, that one is forgiven. I felt like the worst shit on earth."


This photo shows the collapse of Torrero Alvaro Munera, as he realized in the middle of his last fight... the injustice to the animal. From that day forward he became an opponent of bullfights.

I haven't been able to figure out where the photo originally came from, but it definitely doesn't show Alvaro Munera's moment of epiphany during a bullfight. Munera is an ex-bullfighter who's become an animal-rights activist. But (as described in an article about him on open.salon.com) his career ended not from a moment of zen communion with a bull, but rather in 1984 when a bull caught him and tossed him in the air, resulting in a spinal-cord injury that left Munera paralyzed.

I've seen another version of the photo and quotation that attributes the words to "Fabian Oconitrillo Gonzalez". But I have no idea who he might be. If he's a bullfighter, I haven't been able to find out anything about him.
Categories: Animals, Photos/Videos, Sports
Posted by Alex on Wed Mar 07, 2012
Comments (4)
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