Thursday, April 4, 2013

Mysteries of the Aninal Kingdom

Humans – we think we know it all. There we go, traveling all over the planet, measuring things, taking pictures of things, analyzing the DNA of things, and – as we saw in last week’s column – we’ve even started recording the temperature on Mars for no good reason. But how much do we really understand about our world, our universe? Consider animals for instance. They’re all around us, eating, sleeping and pooping, but what do they really want? When you look closely at our four legged “friends” you’ll see some very mysterious behavior indeed.
© Photo
For instance, a week or so ago, a farmer in Oregon named Terry Vance Garner was devoured by his own pigs. The ravenous swine left only his false teeth and a few nibbled body parts by which his stunned and grieving family could identify him. The rest of the unfortunate Mr. Garber they had scoffed, even though they had plenty of other nice things to eat, such as…er… pellets and liquid feed made out of rotten potato peel and sugar beet pulp.
Now, I’ve known that pigs are dodgy creatures for quite some time: ever since I learned that the wild variety will eat rocks if there’s nothing else on the menu. But I did not know that farm raised pigs could be so lethal, or indeed ungrateful. Apparently Mr. Garner was a model farmer, who declined to kill a sow even after it bit his brother last year. Instead he kept feeding and caring for the vicious beast.
And so here we are confronted with some truly profound mysteries: what happened to Mr. Garner? Did the pigs attack him first, or did he have a heart attack and then tumble into the den of swine? Meanwhile China is home to half the world’s pigs; should the Chinese preemptively kill and eat them all in a massive pork/bacon/ham orgy before the pigs rise up against their masters? I’ve read Animal Farm; I know how that story ends.
But enough about pigs – they, at least, are not an extinct species. The same cannot be said for mammoths, which died out 10,000 years ago but are still displaying mysterious, troubling behavior. Mere days after the pigs ate Mr. Garner an eleven year old boy named Zhenya Salinder was out for a stroll in the Siberian permafrost when he stumbled upon the carcass of a woolly mammoth. Apparently he was alerted to its presence by what one scientist described as “the very special scent of mammoth”. Indeed. But the question remains: why had the mammoth risen to the surface at this moment? What did it want?
Well, nothing, because it’s been dead for 28,000 years. But consider this fact – RIA Novosti’s initial report on the discovery emphasized in its headline that the mammoth was very well hung, or at least that its genitalia were perfectly preserved (unlike the deceased pachyderm’s head which had largely rotted away.) Meanwhile, the last really good mammoth find in Russia, a hundred years ago, also survived for millennia with its wedding tackle intact, albeit erect and flattened like a club, as you will see if you visit its Lenin-like “mummy” in the Zoological Museum in St. Petersburg.
Coincidence? You be the judge.
The true mystery however, is why Siberians only ever find woolly mammoths preserved in ice. Didn’t they also have woolly saber toothed tigers back then, or something? And what about the woolly squirrel? They definitely had woolly squirrels. They were exactly the same as our squirrels, only they were 3 meters tall and they had massive tusks and ate cavemen. And yet nobody has ever found one – but why?
And that brings me to my last mystery. Last Friday a man named Edward Archbold collapsed and died after eating an assortment of cockroaches and worms in a Florida pet store. Now the first mystery is why he was doing it in the first place. I am very familiar with cockroaches after many years spent living in crumbling Moscow apartments, but I never felt tempted to stuff the foul vermin down my gullet.
On the other hand, I hear that they’re a very good source of protein, and that indeed vegetarians benefit greatly from the fragments of dead bugs that cling to their food. I once saw a Mexican pizza which had roaches on it. The Florida pet store in question was offering a really cool python as a prize to whoever could eat the most bugs.
OK, so maybe the mystery is: why aren’t we all chowing down on cockroaches? But even so, that leaves another question – why did Mr. Archbold die? Did he eat a bad roach? And what exactly constitutes a bad cockroach? Is it dangerous when undercooked, like fish? Or was one bug past its sell-by-date, like the rancid spicy ketchup that once dispatched me projectile vomiting all the way to Moscow’s Botksinskaya Hospital?
Nobody knows. As Shakespeare said: "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy." And as for animals, I’m not so sure they’re the cuddly friends, companions and delectable dinner options we take them for. We should definitely be keeping an eye on them – especially the woolly squirrels.