By RICH FOLEY
Whenever I get bored with the same old news stories, there always seems to be an animal tale or two (or three) to come along to brighten up my day. Well, my day, at least. Sometimes for the animal, not so much.
I recently read a New York Times article about the ongoing problems with alligators in Florida. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission has established a dedicated hot line to report so-called “nuisance” alligators. It receives 100 to 150 calls per day.
Calls are assigned to one of about 70 contracted gator trappers throughout the state. Captured gators under four feet in length are relocated. Larger ones become property of the trapper, who is allowed to kill the gator and sell the meat and hide.
Owners of a bed and breakfast in Port Charlotte heard a gator at their back door, then watched him wander over to their koi pond, where he dined on fish and sunned himself until a trapper was called. At five-and-a-half feet in length, he was soon to be someone else’s meal.
A man in Palmetto Bay recently saw an eight-footer in the canal behind his home, the neighbor’s cat in its jaws. “Hey, go back up north if you don’t like alligators,” he commented.
Then, in May, there was a really, really hungry gator at the Gainesville Country Club. Responding sheriff’s deputies tried to block the gator with their patrol car and force him back into the water, then heard a “crunch.” I wish I could show you the accompanying photo of a 10-foot gator, jaws firmly clamped onto the front bumper of a Ford Crown Victoria patrol car.
The deputy at the wheel tried to back up while the bumper started to separate from the rest of the police cruiser Did the Ford become the gators dinner? Not this day. After several attempts to drag its “meal” away, the hungry gator gave up and returned the car to the custody of the deputies. While they surveyed the damage, he made an escape before a trapper was called.
You may have heard about the young Emperor penguin who somehow managed to swim to New Zealand all the way from Antarctica, some 2,000 miles away. It was the first sighting of a penguin in the wild in the country since the late 1960’s.
Unfortunately, the penguin was eating wet sand, probably mistaking it for the snow it would eat to cool itself back home. The sand weighed it down without providing any nourishment or cooling. At first, New Zealand’s Department of Conservation preferred to let nature take it course and do nothing. That decision would have eventually caused the death of the penguin, who was quickly becoming too weak and heavy with sand to swim home.
Eventually, he was taken to the Wellington Zoo, where an operation removed much of the sand and small pieces of driftwood he had eaten in a desperate attempt to survive. At last report, he was being fed fish slurry and appeared more active than before the operation.
To make it more comfortable while it recovers, the penguin is being kept in a room cooled to 45 degrees. He is also provided with a bed of ice to lay on.
Finally, a new book describes Nazi Germany’s attempt to prepare an army of trained dogs who could read, write and talk. Historian Jan Bondeson’s “Amazing Dogs” tells of attempts to teach dogs to serve as concentration camp guards, freeing up humans for other duty. No, I’m not making this up.
Hitler approved an “Animal Talking School” near Hanover, which soon had teachers reporting on a number of astonishing canine students. “Don,” a German pointer, is said to have imitated a human voice to bark, “Hungry! Give me cakes!” in German. Another dog, when asked to describe Hitler, barked “Mein Fuhrer.”
More incredible were feats attributed to an Airedale terrier named Rolf. Teachers claimed he could spell by tapping his paw on a board, the number of taps representing letters of the alphabet. With that skill, he supposedly talked about religion, learned other languages and asked a visiting noblewoman if she could wag her tail.
Probably most preposterous was the claim that Rolf “asked to serve in the German army because he disliked the French.” That makes no sense at all. How could he be sure France wasn’t secretly training an army of French poodle paratroopers? And if the poodles needed help, how about those English bulldogs that looked like Winston Churchill? Or was that the other way around?