Animals have been providing welcome distraction to self-isolating residents
Residents in Llandudno, Wales, got quite the surprise last week when a herd of wild goats ventured into the town, feasting on garden plants and hedges.
According to BBC News, some 122 Kashmiri goats wandered into the streets from Great Orme, a headland situated to the North West of Llandudno.
The goats are regular visitors to the town, but usually only in bad weather. Town councillor Carol Marubbi believes this latest visit could be due to the coronavirus outbreak, with more people staying inside.
"They are curious, goats are, and I think they are wondering what's going on like everybody else," she said. “There are very few visitors on the top [of the Orme], so they have come down in their droves. There isn't anyone else around so they probably decided they may as well take over."
Ms Marubbi added that the goats have been providing “free entertainment” to people from their windows and that residents were “very proud” of their four-legged visitors.
Llandudno resident Andrew Stuart has been posting regular updates about the goats on Twitter. In a series of tweets on Friday (27 March), he joked that he had 'got a group of goats arrested' after he spotted them nibbling on hedges.
The self-proclaimed 'goat correspondent' wrote: 'I gave @NWPolice a call to tell them a load of kids (geddit?) were running riot (I didn’t actually say that... sadly). They said they’d pass it on to officers'.
Smell of cooking food used to lure nervous collie
A border collie that went missing in Fisherfield Forest in the Scottish Highlands was found after mountain rescuers used the smell of cooking bacon and sausages to lure the dog to safety.
The dog, named Nell, was frightened off in the early hours of Sunday morning by a helicopter used in a rescue mission to find her owner.
The following day, off-duty members of the Dundonnell Mountain Rescue Team Alison Smith and Rachel Drummond returned to the area with their dogs, along with a winter mountaineering kit and a disposable barbecue.
A spokesperson for Dundonnell Mountain Rescue Team said: “Having walked to the vicinity of Loch an Nid, they fired up the barbecue and soon had bacon and sausages sizzling. The desired effect was soon achieved: a confused and anxious border collie appeared on the horizon, on a rocky hillside.”
After being lured closer by the smell of the food, Nell was secured and treated to a picnic lunch before being walked back to the roadside by her rescuers. The collie was thankfully unharmed and is has now been safely reunited with her owners.
Yorkshire fire crews extinguish blaze on farm
Fire crews were called to a farm near Bramham, Leeds on Saturday, after a pig accidentally caused a fire which spread through four pig pens.
According to the North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service, the fire was started by a battery-powered pedometer which had been swallowed and then excreted by one of the farm’s pigs.
It is believed that the copper from the batteries had reacted with the pig’s excrement and dry bedding, igniting and burning approximately 75 square metres of hay. No animals or people were harmed.
The pedometers were being used to prove that the pigs were free-range.
Teams from nearby Tadcaster and Knaresborough attended the scene at approximately 2pm. In a tweet summarising the incident firefighters said: “A hose reel was used to extinguish the fire and save the bacon.”
Image (c) North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service.
Chicks hatched during the height of storm Dennis
A traffic light in the centre of Leeds might not seem the most ideal place for a bird to build its nest, but that’s exactly where a pair of mistle thrush have decided to rear their chicks.
The mistle thrush family have set up home in front of an amber traffic light. Conservationists say the eggs were laid as early as late-January and hatched in the middle of February during the height of storm Dennis.
Now, despite treacherous weather conditions, all four healthy chicks are ready to fledge the nest - something that has sparked concern among wildlife experts, given that the normal laying season for mistle thrush - also known as stormcocks - usually starts at the end of February.
“With the weather turning dramatically for much of the UK over the winter, it’s very unusual for these birds to set-up nest in traffic lights, so this is certainly not creating a stormcock in a teacup!" commented RSPB wildlife advisor, Charlotte Ambrose.
“What’s even more bizarre is the fact that we’re seeing nesting more than a month earlier than usual as there have been unseasonably high temperatures, despite storms Ciara, Dennis and Ellen. These weather conditions are having a detrimental effect on our wildlife as eggs are being laid earlier in the year, and summer migratory visitors are arriving earlier and leaving later.”
Conservationists say the heat from older versions of traffic lights could have attracted the birds during breeding season, as they provided shelter and warmth, as well as attracting insects as sources of food at night.
Newer versions of traffic lights, however, are fitted with LEDs that don’t emit as much heat. But, this doesn’t appear to have deterred the birds for using them to nest and raise their chicks.
Charlotte added: “2020 is a critical year for nature and global leaders are deciding the fate of our planet later this year, based on evidence around the climate and nature emergencies we’re facing.
"The State of Nature report released in October showed more than 41 per cent of UK species are in serious decline and as nature is falling silent around us, it’s never been more important that we all help give nature a home.”
Image (C) RSPB.
Sniffer dog’s skills used to preserve Protected species
Detection dog specialist Wagtail UK has announced that a five-year-old cocker spaniel named Rocky has passed all testing and is the first scientifically proven detection dog trained to detect great crested newts.
Great crested newts are a European protected species. Difficulty finding and relocating them can pose challenges for major infrastructure projects.
But, after several years of work, Wagtail UK and its sister company Conservation Dogs have developed a safe, efficient and accurate search method to detect live great crested newts using detection dogs.
There has been growing interest in the use of detection dogs for ecological surveys in the UK, as they can cover large areas of land quickly and with greater accuracy, in a more cost effective and non-evasive manner. However, there is currently no standard methodology for testing and accreditation of dog and handler teams.
Extensive scientific testing took place over an 18-month period, with the goal of determining whether dogs could reliably distinguish the scent of a great crested newt from that of other UK amphibians, and locate the protected species in the natural environment.
Rocky has been trained to ignore smooth newts and frogs as they are not protected in the same way. When he locates a great crested newt he will sit or stand next to it without touching it and stare to alert the handler of its presence.
Managing director at Wagtail UK Collin Singer said: “This work highlights the innovative manner in which dogs can be used in conservation and to assist with ecological surveys. Four years of research, painstaking trial and error – and now success has produced a brand new, innovative method of detection dog training by Wagtail UK and Conservation Dogs to find great crested newts.”
Image (c) Wagtail UK.
Results could lead to better understanding of cat’s needs
A new study from the University of Guelph has revealed that certain types of people are adept at reading cat’s facial expressions.
More than 6,300 participants across 85 countries were asked to watch 20 videos featuring closeups of cat’s faces displaying a range of emotions and reactions to different stimuli.
Sounds and surroundings were edited out, and none of the videos featured expressions of fear, such as flattened ears or hissing, as these are already commonly understood.
Participants were asked to state whether the emotion being portrayed was positive or negative.
Results of the study further supported the notion that cats are difficult to read. With the average score being 12 out of 20. However, 13 per cent of participants – dubbed ‘the cat whisperers’ by researchers – scored 15 or higher.
Women were more likely to be a part of this group. As were younger adults and those with veterinary experience. Surprisingly, people who reported a strong attachment to cats did not necessarily score higher than those who didn’t.
“The fact that women generally scored better than men is consistent with previous research that has shown that women appear to be better at decoding non-verbal displays of emotion, both in humans and dogs.” Said Prof Georgia Mason, who led the study with Prof Lee Niel.
According to the researchers, the fact that people with veterinary experience scored higher did not necessarily indicate a natural skill but rather a learned ability, resulting from the need to discern a cat’s well-being in practice.
“The ability to read animals’ facial expressions is critical to welfare assessment.” Commented Prof Niel. “Our finding that some people are outstanding at reading these subtle clues suggests it’s a skill more people can be trained to do.”
Litter thought to be one of the largest ever for the breed
A black Labrador has given birth to what is believed to be one of the largest ever litters recorded for the breed.
When Beau was five weeks pregnant with her puppies, the veterinary surgeon anticipated that she might give birth to around five or six puppies. But it came as quite a shock to Beau’s owner, dog breeder Leah Barrett, when she ended up delivering 13!
According to The Independent, the litter is just two short of the record thought to have been set by a Scottish black Labrador in 2014.
Ms Barrett commented: “The vet told us it would take about an hour for each puppy to be born. We thought there could be up to eight, so roughly calculated eight-hour labour. But after seven were born in just 40 minutes, we were absolutely gobsmacked. They were just flying out.”
While Beau was giving birth her placenta came loose, trapping one of the puppies in the birth canal. It took Leah and her sister around 40 minutes to deliver the puppy, but when he arrived he wasn’t breathing or moving.
Thankfully, Ms Barrett had done her research on the subject and used special equipment to suck the fluid out of the puppies lungs. “We were all panicking, we thought we had lost her. It took about 10 to 15 minutes to get her breathing,” she said.
Leah told The Independent that she has been getting up in the middle of the night to feed the puppies, as Beau only has teats for 10 of the puppies.
She added that delivering the litter - which consists of seven boys and six girls - was one of the “most beautiful” things she has ever done.
Researchers analyse DNA samples from water samples
Scientists investigating the myth of the Loch Ness Monster say that the repeated sightings could be attributed to a giant eel.
Researchers at the University of Otago, New Zealand, took DNA from 250 water samples in Loch Ness to reveal a comprehensive picture of all living species the loch contains.
Speaking at a media conference at the Loch Ness Centre in Drumnadrochit, Professor Neil Gemmell said his team had not discovered any monster DNA in the water.
Some scientists believe that Nessie could be a Jurassic-age reptile or population of Jurassic-age reptiles such as a plesiosaur.
"We can't find any evidence of a creature that's remotely related to that in our environmental-DNA sequence data. So, sorry, I don't think the plesiosaur idea holds up based on the data that we have obtained,” he said.
The research team also looked for evidence to support other theories, such as various giant fish, catfish, eels or even a shark.
Professor Gemmel continued: "So there's no shark DNA in Loch Ness based on our sampling. There is also no catfish DNA in Loch Ness based on our sampling. We can't find any evidence of sturgeon either.”
The scientists did, however, obtain DNA evidence that the ‘monster’ could be linked to a giant eel.
"There is a very significant amount of eel DNA. Eels are very plentiful in Loch Ness, with eel DNA found at pretty much every location sampled - there are a lot of them. So - are they giant eels?
"Well, our data doesn't reveal their size, but the sheer quantity of the material says that we can't discount the possibility that there may be giant eels in Loch Ness. Therefore we can't discount the possibility that what people see and believe is the Loch Ness Monster might be a giant eel."
ZSL uses unusual method to mark threatened bats in Cuba
Scientists are using nail varnish to paint the ‘nails’ of one of the world’s rarest bats, as part of an unusual project to estimate population numbers.
Declared extinct until it was rediscovered in 1992, the Cuban greater funnel-eared bat is confined to a single cave in Western Cuba.
A team of scientists from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) needed a way to identify individual bats, but marking them can be challenging. It is typically done through necklaces, arm rings or wing punches, but this can sometimes alter behaviour.
As the remaining population of these bats is so small, researchers wanted to keep things as natural as possible. They came up with the solution of using four different nail varnish colours to paint the bats’ nails, creating thousands of colour combinations for unique markings.
Preliminary results suggest there are less than 750 of these bats left. ZSL scientists said the species is in need of urgent conservation help, as the last population is threatened by human intrusion and collapse of the cave roof due to thermal instability.
Jose Manuel De La Cruz Mora, ZSL’s Segré-EDGE Fellow, said: “It was time consuming giving each bat an individual manicure, but it’s an incredible privilege to get up-close to this amazing animal – and to discover more about them made all those hours painting their nails worth it!
“Bats around the world are one of the most threatened group of animals due to destruction of their roosts, disease and even hunting – but they provide an enormous ecosystem benefit to humans. By keeping insect populations down, they reduce the chance of disease risk and pests on farmers’ crops.
“As they’re very picky about where they roost – they’re particularly vulnerable to human disturbance, but now we have a rough estimate of how many are left, we can plan the best conservation action – including local community awareness campaigns to raise their profile.”
Nail varnish image © ZSL; bat photo © Carolina Soto Navarro/ZSL
Appeal put out to replenish the red pandas’ stocks
A zoo in East Sussex says it has been inundated with bamboo for its red pandas after putting out an appeal for help earlier this month.
Drusillas Park launched an urgent public appeal for bamboo donations after its red pandas Mulan and Maja munched through more of their bamboo plantation than expected.
The zoo said it received hundreds of deliveries and collections from members of the public who donated bamboo from their gardens. Drusillas is once again fully stocked, to the delight of Mulan and Maja.
Seagulls are a common sight at the British seaside, but they get a lot of bad press owing to their reputation for stealing people’s food. But now researchers at the University of Exeter believe they have found a way to keep these feathered scavengers at bay - stare them down!
In the study, researchers placed a bag of chips on the ground and timed how long it took for herring gulls to approach the bag, compared to when the human looked away.
They found that, on average, the gulls took 21 seconds longer to approach the chips with a human staring at them. The results are published in the journal, Biology Letters.
“Gulls are often seen as aggressive and willing to take food from humans, so it was interesting to find that most wouldn’t even come near during our tests,” said lead author Madeleine Goumas, of the Center for Ecology and Conservation at Exeter’s Penryn Campus in Cornwall.
The researchers set out to test 74 gulls, but most flew away or would not approach. Only 27 approached the chips and 19 completed the “looking at” and “looking away” tests.
“Of those that did approach, most took longer when they were being watched,” Goumas said. “Some wouldn’t even touch the food at all, although others didn’t seem to notice that a human was staring at them.”
Senior author Dr Neeltje Boogert added: “Gulls learn really quickly, so if they manage to get food from humans once, they might look for more.
“Our study took place in coastal towns in Cornwall, and especially now, during the summer holidays and beach barbecues, we are seeing more gulls looking for an easy meal. We therefore advise people to look around themselves and watch out for gulls approaching, as they often appear to take food from behind, catching people by surprise.
“It seems that just watching the gulls will reduce the chance of them snatching your food.”
A lost pet canary has been nicknamed Boris because of his bouffant hairstyle, which reminded RSPCA staff of the new Prime Minister.
Boris the yellow canary was found flying loose with a budgie in a park near Farm Lane, Plymouth. A member of the public spotted the pair and knew they must be lost pets as they both had rings on their legs.
RSPCA animal collection officer Megan Higgins said: “She managed to catch the birds and took them home before calling us in.
“The budgie’s owner was quickly tracked down and reunited with their missing pet but, unfortunately, we’ve not been able to trace this sweet little canary’s owner.”
The little bird’s fluffy blonde head reminded staff at the RSPCA Little Valley Animal Centre, Exeter, of the new PM, Boris Johnson.
They are hoping to trace the bird’s owners so he can be reunited with them.
Megan added: “Boris is such a friendly little bird and we’d love to reunite him with his owners who must be worried sick about him. If anyone recognises him or believe he may be theirs then please get in touch with our Little Valley Animal Centre or call our appeal line on 0300 123 8018.”
The charity is urging all pet owners to ensure their animals are microchipped or have suitable identification, such as leg rings, and are registered to a database so they can be quickly reunited with their owners if they go missing.
Canary image © RSPCA
Project to encourage people to reduce landfill waste
A life-sized elephant created from thousands of recycled batteries has gone on display in London to highlight how many are thrown into landfill every year.
Weighing two tonnes, the sculpture was created by artist Tony Diaz and stands at 10-foot-tall. A total of 29,649 batteries were used to create the installation, collected by school children as part of Duracell’s Big Battery Hunt.
The elephant will remain on show at Hanwell Zoo for the duration of the summer where it is hoped to inspire a whole new generation of battery recyclers.
Tony Diaz said: “It’s taken 400 hours and in excess of 29,000 recycled batteries but every moment has been worth it. Creating this elephant has been a humbling reminder that powering change can come from anywhere.
''It is so inspiring to see the younger generation actively involved in making the world a better place and teaching their own parents and loved ones about the importance of recycling.”
More than one million children from across the UK took part in Duracell’s Big Battery Hunt, gathering batteries in their local community and placing them in collection boxes.
Beau-Jensen McCubbin, a spokesman for Hanwell Zoo said: “We are very proud to be the home of the Big Battery Hunt elephant and are very keen to continue to encourage our visitors to reduce landfill waste.
“Our environment is so fragile, and now more than ever we all need to be doing our bit to protect our planet and the incredible biodiversity that calls it home.
“We all have a responsibility to be more sustainable and we are calling on all of our visitors to make a difference by bringing their used batteries along with them on their visit to Hanwell Zoo. We have bins in place to collect all the used batteries you can find.”
Image (C) SWNS Digital.
RSPCA Danaher offers plenty to entertain its smaller residents
An RSPCA rescue centre in Essex has come up with a novel way to keep its smaller residents entertained.
The Danaher Animal Home in Wethersfield is highlighting the importance of rabbit enrichment by showing off its bunny ball pit. Filled with dozens of colourful plastic balls, it’s already being enjoyed by Himalayan lionhead rabbit Princess, who has been in the care of the RSPCA since March.
And that’s not the only activity keeping the resident rabbits in good spirits. Animal centre manager Debs Satchell said that whether it’s cubes or tubes, cardboard boxes or shop-bought brain-stimulating puzzles, there is plenty to keep smaller animals entertained.
“We try to offer the smaller residents at Danaher plenty to keep their minds occupied and try to change the enrichments we provide them with regularly to avoid them becoming bored,” said Debs.
RSPCA’s rabbit and rodent welfare expert Dr Jane Tyson explained that rabbits are one of the UK’s most misunderstood pets who are all too often consigned to the end of the garden in a hutch alone.
“Whilst not all rabbits will enjoy being in a ball pit, for those that do, this can be great enrichment and owners can scatter some tasty, healthy treats in the pit for the rabbits to find,” she said.
“It is important they are never forced to enter a ball pit and are always able to escape. They should also always be supervised whilst in the ball pit to ensure they don't hurt themselves or start to nibble on the balls which could be dangerous.”
Image (C) RSPCA
A parrot in the US can perform 16 distinct dance moves, some of which he appears to have invented himself, according to a new study.
The research, published in Current Biology, suggests that, like humans, parrots can respond to music using a wide variety of movements and body parts.
Over 10 years ago, researchers at Tufts University studied Snowball, a sulphur-crested cockatoo, bobbing his head to the beat of a Backstreet Boys song. This suggested that parrots, unlike most species, have the cognitive ability to anticipate a beat and move to it.
In the latest study, researchers found that Snowball can perform 16 different dance moves, none of which he has been trained to do. His dancing developed through social interaction with people and he appears to have made up some of the moves, as his owner Irene Schulz, a co-author on the study, does not make these moves when she dances with him.
Tufts researchers say that dancing to music is not just an arbitrary product of human culture.
Psychology professor Aniruddh Patel said: “It’s a response to music that arises when certain cognitive and neural capacities come together in animal brains.”
The recent study suggests there are five distinct capacities that form key evolutionary prerequisites for dancing to music.
“We think this helps explain why so few species - and no other primates - share our impulse to move to music in spontaneous and diverse ways,” he added.
Now the team hope to find out whether parrots - like humans - prefer to dance with another of their kind rather than alone.
Video by Bird Lovers Only Rescue Service
Image (c) Irena Schulz
A pair of rescued seals have been named ‘Prince Herring’ and ‘Meghan Mackerel’, in honour of the royal couple Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.
The seals (not pictured) were rescued separately in June by Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Centre, where they now reside. Meghan Mackerel was found alone on Sidney Island near Victoria on June 18, with no sign of her mother.
She was underweight, had remnants of her umbilical cord still attached and was still covered in soft fur, suggesting she was born prematurely.
Prince Herring was also born prematurely and was found two days later in a marsh located inland from Crescent Beach. He was still attached to the placenta but his mother was nowhere in sight.
In a statement, the rescue centre urged the public to show ‘decorum’ when it comes to animals found on the beach.
Assistant manager Emily Johnson said: "Mothers will often leave their pups on shore while they forage for food; they will usually make it back. We ask those who find a seal pup not to touch it and to keep their pets away. Call us, we'll assess the animal, then decide if a rescue is needed."
Members of the public can symbolically ‘adopt’ Meghan or Herring to help fund ongoing rehabilitation efforts at the centre, which rescues, rehabilitates and releases around 150 animals a year.