2011.07.13 Gators, penguin, talking Nazi dogs liven up news

Written by David Green.


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?

  • Front.cowboy
    A PERFORMER named Biligbaatar, a member of the AnDa Union troupe from Inner Mongolia, dances at Stair District Library last week during a visit to the Midwest. The nine-member group blends a variety of traditions from Inner and Outer Mongolia. The music is described as drawing from “all the Mongol tribes that Genghis Khan unified.” The group considers itself music gatherers whose goal is to preserve traditional sounds of Mongolia. Biligbaatar grew up among traditional herders who live in yurts. Additional photos are on the back page of this week’s Observer.
  • Front.base Ball
    UMPIRE Thomas Henthorn tosses the bat between team captains Mikayla Price and Chuck Piskoti of Flint’s Lumber City Base Ball Club. Following the 1860 rules, after the bat was grabbed by the captains, captains’ hands advanced to the top of the bat—one hand on top of the other. The captain whose hand ended up on top decided who would bat first. Additional photos of Sunday’s game appear on page 12 of this week’s Observer. The contest was organized in conjunction with Stair District Library’s Hometown Teams exhibit that runs through Nov. 20.
  • Front.chat
    VALUE OF ATHLETICS—Morenci graduate John Bancroft (center) takes a turn at the microphone during a chat session at the opening of the Hometown Teams exhibit at Stair District Library. Clockwise to his left is John Dillon, Jed Hall, Jim Bauer, Joe Farquhar, George Hollstein, George Vereecke and Mike McDowell. Thomas Henthorn (at the podium) kicked off the conversation. Henthorn, a University of Michigan–Flint professor, will return to Morenci this Sunday to lead a game of vintage base ball at the school softball field.
  • Front.cross
    HUDSON RUNNER Jacob Morgan looks toward the top of the hill with dismay during the tough finish at Harrison Lake State Park. Fayette runner Jacob Garrow focuses on the summit, also, during the Eagle Invitational cross country run Saturday morning. Continuing rain and drizzle made the course even more challenging. Results of the race are in this week’s Observer.
  • Front.bear
    HOLDEN HUTCHISON gives a hug to a black bear cub—the product of a taxidermist’s skills—at the Michigan DNR’s Great Youth Jamboree. The event on Sunday marked the fourth year of the Jamboree. Additional photos are on page 12.
  • Front.hose Testing
    HOSE safety—The FireCatt hose testing company from Troy put Morenci Fire Department hose to the test Monday morning when Mill Street was closed to traffic. The company also checks nozzles and ladders for wear in an effort to keep fire fighters safe while on calls.

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