Posts tagged ‘wildlife’

Odd Links

Feral dogs in Moscow adapt to a commuter  lifestyle from English Russia via natureblog.  Go to the link at English Russia for some fascinating information on how these dogs are adapting to changing urban conditions.


Via DogArtToday, disturbing but beautiful Bird Dog sculptures from Australian artist Emily Valentine.


Old news but new to us – The UK’s Telegraph reported back in 2007 that a miniature wire-haired dachshund named Daisy dug up the leg bone from a woolly mammoth when her owner took her for a morning walk while on a beach holiday in Suffolk.

The dog’s owner, Dennis Smith, 69, dug it out of the sand and later showed it to a geologist who identified it as part of a leg from a mammoth that probably roamed the area up to two million years ago.

The 13 in bone is believed to have been uncovered by heavy seas that battered the Suffolk coast and washed away sand that may have covered it for centuries.


Yesterday the Telegraph reported this story about a retired doctor who has trained wo generations of wild foxes to stand up and beg for food.  Cute – but not a particularly good idea.  Taming wild animals all too often leads to unneccessary troubles for two- and four-leggers.


April 18, 2009 at 7:00 pm Leave a comment

Piss on it!

Or… how do you keep packs of African wild dogs inside an  unfenced boundary?

Today Scientific American reports on a unique kind of barrier being used to keep African wild dogs inside the reserves designed to protect them.

Over the past year, [Craig] Jackson, a biologist, and his colleagues working on the Northern Tuli Wild Dog Project, have shown that strategically placed urine—called Bio-Boundaries—can help restrict the movements of these notorious fence-breakers in order to keep the endangered canines on protected land. “The fact that we’ve been able to contain these dogs is amazing,” Jackson says.

Keeping wild dogs inside the boundaries of preserves is important for their safety as well as for the safety of domestic goats and other animals the dogs often prey on outside the reserves.  African wild dogs hunt in packs like their cousins the wolves.  And they are remarkably successful at it.

Compared with lions, which successfully kill just 20 percent of the animals they stalk, wild dogs have a hunting success rate ranging from 40 to 80 percent. That’s not always a good thing for an animal that must coexist with humans and their livestock.

The wild dogs’ success at hunting is surpassed only by ours.  Humans are the number one killer of wild dogs, reportedly directly responsible for as much as 60 percent of all deaths.  We’re also indirectly responsible for the large number of deaths caused by diseases like parvo, rabies and distemper that wild dogs catch from their domestic brothers.

So keeping wild dogs inside the boundaries of game parks is vital to maintaining viable populations.  But how does one keep a bright, wide-ranging, atheletic species confined to a large, unfenced area?  Well it turns out that strategically placed urine samples do the trick quite nicely. The Botswana Predator Conservation Trust (BPCT) is conducting research with the goal of identifying the signaling chemicals in African wild dog territorial scent marks. According to their website:

The aim is to identify the chemicals in the scent mark odour that are sending the territorial “No Trespassing” signal and to use them to make artificial territorial boundaries that will protect wild dog packs by keeping them within the safety of protected conservation areas.  […]  African Wild Dogs, like nearly all mammals, send their social messages as complex mixtures of airborne organic chemicals, called semiochemicals. Wild dog packs stake out their hunting territories with patches of soil soaked with the urine of the pack’s alpha pair, and the odour of these scent marks tells neighbouring packs and itinerant dispersers “This area is occupied, no trespassing.”

BPCT’s goal is to use BioBoundaries to prevent human-wild dog conflicts.  And if they achieve their goal, parks won’t be the only areas where BioBoundaries area used.  Wild dog populations are in decline across Africa and problems with human predation and diseases spread by domestic dogs aren’t the only factors limiting their numbers.  As we’ve posted here before, wild dogs need to live in large packs and have access to interconnected ranges to survive as viable populations. They don’t just need room to hunt game – they also need safe migration corridors that allow populations to grow and mix.  BPCT hopes to use BioBoundaries to create genetic corridors between the healthy populations to allow genetic mixing to occur with minimal human intervention.


Smells like "No Tresspassing" to me

Will it work?  BioBoundaries are not an entirely new idea.  Semiochemicals have been used commercially for pest control decades.  According to SciAm:

In 1996 J. Weldon “Tico” McNutt, director of the Botswana Predator Conservation Trust noticed that it took a pack of dogs six months to move into a territory in Okavango that was left empty after four packs there were wiped out by rabies. He speculated that long-lasting chemicals in their urine and feces discouraged the dogs from entering those former territories, but never had the opportunity to the put his theory to practice. After all, it would not make sense to disrupt the behavior of healthy dog populations, and smaller populations were all kept within fences.

Finally, in April 2008, after 18 dogs were moved by conservationists to Tuli from Marakele National Park in South Africa, McNutt had his chance and Jackson was tasked with maintaining the bio-boundary and monitoring the animals’ movements with GPS-equipped dog collars. The researchers have flown more than 500 scent marks to Tuli over the last year, and the dogs appear to be staying within the bounds of the fenceless reserve.

BPCT hopes to identify and synthesize key components in wild dog territorial scent.  They believe that using laboratory-made scents would be more practical than collecting urine in the field. (Though I can’t help but wonder if collecting scent might be one way to employ local humans and make at least a few of them happy to have wild dogs in their back yard.)  If the project is successful, in the future  BioBoundaries might be used to control other large predators and territorial species.

Perhaps someday they’ll have formulas we can use to keep pests like deer, rabbits and the neighbors dog out of our garden too.

April 18, 2009 at 12:20 am 4 comments

A Lovely Waste of Time

Sometimes I need to re-examine my priorities.  Chores, bills, work and other responsibilities – I tend to take them too seriously.  A little of this a lot of that… and the next thing I know I’m bogged down in a great big pile of pointless grownup stuff. 

The old dog has been doing a wonderful job lately of showing me what is, and is not, important. 

My husband and I have taken to spoiling the old fellow a bit.  Well, OK.  More than a bit.  But we adore the old fellow and it doesn’t look like we’ll have the chance to do it for a lot longer.  Age and an entire Minnesota smorgasbord of health problems are taking their toll.  I doubt he’ll make it to summer. 


The wonderful thing is that he’s a dog and utterly unaware of his mortality.  He seems to be utterly convinced that he will heal to roam the hills with me again.  And I’m quite happy to indulge him in that fantasy. 

Tonight the old fellow, the pup and I went out for what was to be a short evening constitutional (i.e. poop break).  It was a calm, quiet, warm (30 degree F) night.  Our house sits at the end of a very long drive on a hillside overlooking a steep ravine and creek near the Mississippi River.  Hardwood forest, cliffs, creek and scrub – it’s a great place for wildlife. 

Being a clueless, impatient human who thought she had other, more important, priorities (laundry, bills, correspondence) my goal was a quick potty break and return to the house.  Zorro had a different agenda. 

We walked next door to the training center.  I tied up a few loose ends, gave the boys each a liver snack and planned to head right back to the house.  I was about a third of the way there when the old fellow stopped and gently blocked me from going any farther.  The old guy is not terribly steady on his feet any more, so when he moved in front of me I had to either stop, or knock him over.  So of course I stopped. 

As I did, he looked up at me with a very calm, very serious gaze.  He distinctly made eye contact, and then pointedly looked up the hill.  It was a look that said “there’s something important up there – look!” 

So, of course I followed that important gaze. 

On a quiet night a lot of sounds punctuate the night air at our place.  Tonight I heard the creek roaring with spring runoff.  I heard a distant freight train.  Trucks, probably hauling grain, on the highway a few miles away.  Then, just faintly – coyotes.  Right exactly where the old dog’s nose was pointed. 

We sat for a while together.  The old guy leaned comfortably against my thigh.  It was a quiet, dark, starless night that made the world seem a bit smaller and more intimate than the crystal clear, bitingly cold nights we’ve had until just recently. The two of us stood together and listened to the coyotes sing far away. 

And then he turned.  With a quizzical look the old dog leaned out and looked around me to the woods along the creek – and I heard it too.  A barred owl calling.  Soft, muted.  In the bit of pine forest behind the training center


The owl called just a few times then continued his hunt.  The coyotes went on to sing a long, complex song.  They were interrupted once by deer bleating on the hillside above us.  The puppy heard them and barked once (silly puppy) and we heard crashing sounds of brush and corn snow as they ran for cover. 

A quick potty break had turned into an hour long symphony of night sounds.  Beautiful sounds and experiences I would have missed if it wasn’t for an old dog with a ruined body and a strong and resilient soul. 

The laundry, the bills and all those other banal responsibilities of day to day life will still be there tomorrow.  Why should I waste time on them when the coyotes, the owl, the deer – and my wonderful old dog – might not? 

It was a lovely waste of time.

March 17, 2008 at 5:58 am 5 comments

Because A Dog’s Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste


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