Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Pathetic Squirrel Killers At The Grand Canyon

Most people go to national parks like the Grand Canyon to appreciate the majestic scenery and the wildlife that these beautiful places offer. For two cowardly, pathetic men, allegedly from France, the canyon was apparently the perfect place to act out their sadistic impulses on a helpless squirrel.

In a video that went viral on YouTube a few days ago, the two men are near the rim of the Grand Canyon dressed, for some reason in only hats and underwear. While one of the men appears to film, the other first places bits of bread on the ground to lure a squirrel to the canyon's edge. When the squirrel approaches the rim, the man puts on a shoe, then walks up to the squirrel and calmly kicks it, sending it flying over the edge of the cliff. With an average canyon depth of around a mile, there is little chance that the tiny creature could have survived the fall unless it was lucky enough to land on an outcropping close to the top.

The person who posted the video has reportedly stated that he does not know the two men but that he thinks they were French, and that he did not know what was going to happen. Nevertheless, he did not report the incident to park authorities, and he was more than happy to post the video, complete with backing music. Honestly, I have doubts that the men really were French, or that they were really unknown to the videographer.

I have decided not to show the video on this blog, or even include stills from it. These two pathetic cowards have no doubt been enjoying the publicity as the images have spread throughout the internet. I will show a photo of a rock squirrel, the species that was probably the victim. Rock squirrels are common along the south rim of the Grand Canyon, and have become tame enough there that they often approach tourists for food handouts that are readily given. The poor squirrel in the video had absolutely no reason to think it should fear the two men.

Thankfully YouTube removed the original video due to its upsetting content. The national park service has begun an investigation into the incident in hopes of identifying the men, but so far there seems to be little progress. Also, a petition is circulating on calling for the identification and prosecution of the men. And just today, a reward of $15,000 has been offered by PETA for anyone who identifies the sadistic killers.

It's always tempting in cases like this to call for the proverbial eye-for-an-eye, to say that the men in the video should themselves be kicked of the edge of the canyon. It is unfortunate that the maximum sentence that they might receive is six months in jail and a fine of $5,000. I hope that these loathsome jerks can be identified and given whatever penalty is available, and more importantly that they can feel the contempt of the whole world for their cruel, sadistic excuse for "fun".

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Who Is Your Favorite Animated Squirrel?

Although the most popular cartoon characters seem to be cats, mice, and birds, a few animated squirrels have entertained us through the years. I present here some of the most popular cartoon squirrels, starting with Chip and Dale in the 1940s through Sandy Cheeks. If you look on the sidebar to the right of this post, you will find a poll where you can vote on your favorite.

Because I am focusing on cartoon squirrels seen primarily on television, I am not including the popular prehistoric squirrel Scrat from the "Ice Age" films, which I have not seen. I am also not including any characters from last year's film "The Nut Job" which received poor reviews and was not a big box office success.

Chip and Dale
The two Disney chipmunks made their first appearance in the short film "Private Pluto" in 1943. Most of their early appearances were as antagonists to either Pluto or, more often, Donald Duck. Only three shorts were made featuring Chip and Dale as the principle characters, all of these in the early 1950s. In 1989 the pair were given their own series, "Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers."

At first nearly identical, eventually minor differences in appearance were added--Chip given a smaller black nose, smoother head fur, centered front teeth, and slightly darker color--so that viewers could more easily tell the two apart. One feature that both Chip and Dale lack is the facial stripes which are characteristic of all real chipmunks.

Rocket J. Squirrel
Arguably the iconic animated squirrel, and a favorite from my own childhood, Rocky the Flying Squirrel made his debut in 1959 on "Rocky and His Friends," which later became "The Bullwinkle Show" (today both shows are routinely referred to as "The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show"). Rocky was the highly intelligent but somewhat naive and oddly effeminate "straight man" to his amiably goofy best friend Bullwinkle J. Moose. One of the most well-known routines involved Bullwinkle attempting to pull a rabbit out of a top hat, to which Rocky replied "that trick never works!" The pair also took part in adventures that pitted them against their foes Boris Badenov and Natasha Fatale.

Although billed as a "flying squirrel," Rocky bears little resemblance to the actual mammal, and does not appear to possess a patagium (the skin flap between the fore and hind legs that allow flying squirrels to glide). He does, however, have flying skills that any real flying squirrel would envy, darting through the air and even rocketing between cities.

Secret Squirrel
A spoof of the popular James Bond movie franchise, Secret Squirrel debuted in 1965 on the "Atom Ant/Secret Squirrel Show." He received his own show the following year, only to be reunited with Atom Ant for one more year in 1967. An updated version of Secret Squirrel ran on "2 Stupid Dogs" starting in 1993.

Secret Squirrel, also known as Agent 000, is a hat-and-trenchcoat-wearing spy who, along with his sidekick Morocco Mole, fights international agents of crime and intrigue using both his intelligence and a collection of guns and gadgets.

Slappy Squirrel
Slappy Squirrel and her nephew Skippy were recurring characters on Animaniacs, which ran from 1993-1998, first on Fox Kids and then on The WB. Reruns continue to appear on various networks to this day. Slappy is presented as an ex-Looney Tunes star whose career has faded. Now a grumpy, somewhat bitter middle-aged squirrel, she lives in a tree with her young nephew who idolizes her. She faces both old foes and everyday annoyances, usually relying on exagerrated and chaotic cartoon violence to solve any and all problems. Like most of the Animaniacs segments, Slappy Squirrel is a fond spoof of old cartoons and movies.

Sandy Cheeks
Sandy Cheeks, who has appeared on "Spongebob Squarepants" since its debut in 1999, is arguably one of the most improbably characters in the history of animation, which is really saying something. An eastern gray squirrel from Texas, she lives in the underwater community of Bikini Bottom with a variety of fish and other marine life, and one yellow household sponge. Sandy lives in a dome, and when moving about underwater she wears a dive suit with a helmet. The source of her oxygen is not clear. The reason for her residence in Bikini Bottom is apparently some sort of scientific research.

Generally Sandy is portrayed as friendly and good natured, but she can also be vindictive and even violent, especially if someone insults Texas. There is a tree inside her dome where she sleeps, and in one episode she is seen hibernating, which tree squirrels in nature do not do.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Squirrel Postcards From Russia

I just wanted to share these images of Russian squirrel postcards that I found online. I really don't know anything about them except that they date from the 1970s and 1980s. The Soviet Union couldn't have been ALL bad if they were turning out cards like these. Enjoy!

This one is my favorite.
I believe it says "Happy New Year"

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Squirrel Facts: The Shrew-Faced Squirrel

The shrew-faced squirrel (rhinosciurus laticaudatus) is a ground squirrel that inhabits mature forests of Borneo, Singapore, Sumatra, and the peninsula of Malaysia, and possibly adjacent southern Thailand. Living on the forest floor, it is one of the few squirrels that is mainly insectivorous, foraging for earthworms and insects that include ants, termites, beetles, and grasshoppers, as well as bananas and other fruit.

As its name implies, the shrew-faced squirrel has a long, tapered snout that causes it to superficially resemble the common tree shrew. The long snout, along with reduced upper incisors and a long tongue, is an adaptation to help the squirrel catch and eat insects on the forest floor. The tree shrew, by comparison, has a wider gape than the shrew-faced squirrel, and a longer but less bushy tail. The resemblence between the two species is so close that the people of the region call them by the same name, tupai.

The shrew-faced squirrel is a medium-sized squirrel, about 7.5-9.5 inches in length for the head and body, with a tail about 4-5 inches long. The back fur can be reddish brown or olive brown, with white or yellowish white fur on the belly.

Although not considered a rare or threatened species, the shrew-faced squirrel is secretive and rarely seen. It nests primarily in hollow logs where females give birth to and raise one or two young which are born blind and hairless.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Prince Charles Is a Bloodthirsty Squirrel Killer

Prince Charles is showing his true colors as an environmental hypocrite. Recently the Prince held a meeting with government forestry officials and conservationists at Dumfries House, one of his many luxurious homes. At this meeting the attendees reached a "squirrel accord" which outlines steps to preserve and restore Eurasian red squirrel numbers in the UK. The centerpiece of this accord is, of course, the grisly "culling" (a more polite term for killing) of massive numbers of grey (gray in the US) squirrels. The motivation for the accord is a naive nostalgia for the days when the Eurasian red squirrel was the dominant squirrel species in the British Isles, a day which the Prince refuses to acknowlege is long past.

Grey Squirrel

Grey squirrels have become a popular environmental scapegoat in Great Britain over the past few decades. Introduced to England in 1876 by a wealthy banker who thought that they would liven up the grounds of his estate, the species has spread throughout the island and now outnumbers the red squirrel by a considerable margin. Greys have been blamed for the decline in numbers of the red squirrel, but the truth is much more complex than "conservationists" like Prince Charles would have us believe. The most often-cited cause of the red squirrels' decline is a virus called "squirrel pox" which is deadly to reds but harmless greys, who are blamed for spreading the disease.

But the red squirrel advocates conveniently overlook other causes of the decline, such as habitat loss and urban, suburban, and agricultural development, which have wiped out conifer and mixed forests that the red squirrel depends on. The unfortunate fact is that grey squirrels are much more suited to living in small patches of hardwood forest, yards, and parklands in close proximity to humans than are their red cousins. It is obviously much easier for public figures like Prince Charles to point to a supposed villain, the grey squirrel, than to address the real problems that would require much more time, effort, and (most importantly) money to fix.

Red Squirrel

So what will come of Prince Charles' "squirrel accord?" The same that has been happening now for years. Traps will be set. Terrified grey squirrels will be "humanely" killed by shooting, or by bludgeoning or drowning in burlap sacks. Small localized and temporary increases in red squirrel numbers will be hailed as victories. And in the long run, nothing will change at all. The truth that the Prince and his allies refuse to acknowledge is that the window of opportunity to eradicate the grey squirrel from Britain passed a century ago. Hopefully the red squirrel will adapt and manage to maintain its numbers in some areas, especially the north of England and Scotland where conifer forests remain. But no amount of nostalgia will make the red squirrel the dominant species in the UK as it once was. Those who like Prince Charles want to save this species in Britain need to focus their efforts on habitat restoration and developing a vaccine for squirrel pox virus. They need to ask themselves how long the grey squirrel needs to be established in England before it stops being an "invasive" species and is accepted as part of the environment.

Monday, April 21, 2014

The Rally Squirrel Is Back, and It Hates the Phillies!

Back in 2011, the Major League Baseball world was captivated as a squirrel helped the St. Louis Cardinals to a win in the National League Divisional Series against the Philadelphis Phillies. After the Cardinals went on to win the World Series, the team even immortalized the Rally Squirrel on their championship rings,

and on outfielder Skip Schumaker'sTopps 2012 baseball card.

And now the Rally Squirrel is back! This time, the squirrel (or one of its cousins) showed up at Coors Field in Denver as the Colorado Rockies were playing the Phillies this past Saturday. The squirrel made its appearance during the third inning, wandering around behind home plate, checking out the Phillies' dugout, and running into the outfield, to the delight of fans and television commentators.

The squirrel stuck around into the fourth inning, and the home team Rockies went on to win the game. It seems that the Rally Squirrel has a grudge against Philadelphia. Or maybe it's trying to send the message that the Phillies should change their name to the Philadelphia Squirrels. After all, what the heck is a "Phillie" anyway?

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Update on Endangered San Bernardino Flying Squirrel

Update April 3, 2014: Today the Center for Biological Diversity filed a notice of intent to sue the US Fish and Wildlife Service for failing in its obligation to protect the San Bernardino flying squirrel under the Endangered Species Act. Here's wishing the Center for Biological Diversity good luck in this action, and hope that it brings help quickly before we lose this wonderful squirrel forever!

The San Bernardino flying squirrel is a subspecies of the northern flying squirrel. It lives in high conifer forests in the mountains of southern California. Like other flying squirrels, this small nocturnal squirrel uses a membrane that stretches between its wrists and ankles to glide up to 300 feet between trees in search of food.

Unfortunately, the San Bernardino flying squirrel has declined in numbers in recent decades and may be in danger of disappearing altogether. In 2010, the Center for Biological Diversity petitioned the federal Fish and Wildlife Service to list the squirrel as an endangered species threatened by global climate change.

It is believed that the species has already disappeared from part of its range, the San Jacinto Mountains, and is now restricted to the higher elevations of the San Bernardino Mountains. And even on those peaks, its territory is gradually shrinking due to the effects of global warming.

The San Bernardino flying squirrel depends on cool, wet old-growth forests with plenty of big trees, fallen logs and large tangles where it can find its primary food, truffle fungus. In recent decades, harmful forest management practices that call for removal of downed trees and snags, and the spread of suburban development, have encroached on this habitat. Now the remaining territory is shrinking as rising temperatures and drought drive the squirrel to higher elevations.

Fortunately, there may be some relief in sight. Earlier this year the Fish and Wildlife Service issued an initial positive decision to protect the San Bernardino flying squirrel under the Endangered Species Act. Although this is not a final decision, it brings the squirrel a step closer to protection. A positive final decision would prevent further development on remaining habitat and could help make a case for additional restrictions on carbon emissions that contribute to global warming.