By RICH FOLEY
I’m hoping 2012 will be another year of animals in the news. They’re fun to write about and opposed to humans, unlikely to send whiny, complaining letters to the editor. I just wish I knew what happened to some of 2011’s famous animals, like, for instance, Gena the crocodile.
Last winter, Gena swallowed a cell phone dropped by a careless visitor to his aquarium home in Ukraine. Aquarium workers could hear the phone ringing in the poor reptile’s stomach. When the story made the news, Gena had not eaten in a month and no longer was playing with his croc friends. A risky operation to remove the phone was considered (and actually performed, according to one account). Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to track down any updates on Gena.
Sometimes, I wish I didn’t know the rest of the story. I was happy to hear about the steer that escaped from a meat-processing facility. Upon arrival at the plant near Mount Pleasant, the steer discovered an open door and hoofed it to freedom, at least temporarily.
He was nearly caught at a Burger King some distance away (the article doesn’t say whether or not he ordered a Whopper), but escaped again, crossing a five-lane highway before being killed by police who claimed the steer was “large, agitated and dangerous.” I can’t say I blame the steer for being agitated. Wouldn’t you be?
A sad fate also awaited Andre the sea turtle. Found stranded on a sandbar off the Florida coast in June of 2010, Andre suffered from a variety of injuries including holes in his shell (apparently from boat strikes), a collapsed lung, an exposed spinal cord, plus an infection and pneumonia.
Several new procedures were developed to care for and rehabilitate Andre, and after 14 months, he was released back into the ocean. Just three weeks later, his body was discovered on a nearby island. A tag placed on him before his release confirmed his identity, but he was in such bad condition, a cause of death couldn’t be determined.
An emperor penguin found ill in New Zealand thousands of miles from its Antarctic home similarly died just a few days after being released following treatment.
Birds also grabbed a share of news in 2011. A Jackson man was sentenced to 10 months in jail for parrot abuse. He was carrying it in a backpack in Ann Arbor when witnesses reported that he shook it so hard that feathers were scattering. He told police he was “disciplining and training” the parrot.
It’s too bad he wasn’t sentenced to serve his time in a Brazilian prison which added two geese to its security force. The warden of the Sobral prison said the geese make a lot of noise when they sense “strange movements,” alerting guards to potential problems.
A veterinarian in Oregon saved an injured bald eagle by performing “mouth to beak” resuscitation. The eagle, which had been found in June with a dislocated shoulder and paralyzed right leg, was under anesthesia during physical therapy when it stopped breathing. Dr. Jeff Cooney was able to revive the eagle, who was lucky Cooney knew CPR.
Meanwhile, England is being invaded by thousands of rose-ringed parakeets, native to India and Africa. It is believed that initially they either escaped from bird cages or were released by owners. But scientists can’t yet explain how they are multiplying so fast.
The English population was estimated at 1,500 in 1995. Ten years later, that number had jumped to 30,000. The parakeets ravage crops in India, but so far, the British contingent seems happy raiding bird feeders.
And finally, every dog may not have its day, but one finally received his own postage stamp. Owney, mascot of the Post Office’s Railway Mail Service in the late 1800s, was famous for traveling the country and, eventually, the world, in train cars carrying the mail.
Owney collected hundreds, if not thousands, of metal mailbag tags during his travels, many of which were displayed on a harness given to him by Postmaster General John Wanamaker. Owney was shot and killed in Toledo in 1897 (details of the circumstances are sketchy) and his mail clerk friends paid to have him preserved. In 1911, the Postal Service transferred Owney’s body to the Smithsonian Institution and his 100th year there was marked on July 27th with a stamp in his honor.
That sounds like a nice tribute to Owney. Now if only they’d make a crocodile-shaped cell phone to honor Gena.