Archive for August, 2008

 So says the linguist Will Graves. Yes, linguist, and an expert on the Russian language. Russia has a long history of wolf hating. Wolves do kill livestock. However, they very, very, very rarely attack people. We’ve had only one fatality of a healthy wolf (it was actually two) killing a person in North America. In modern Europe, there isn’t a single case. A pack of wolves snatched children in India, but basically, wolves are not dangerous to people. Wolves do kill livestock and domestic dogs, usually over territority (sometimes for food).

Dogs attack 500,000 to 1 million people per year. As I’ve said before, the Spanish used dogs to their advantage against the native peoples of Latin America and Florida. These big mastiffs killed people in much the same way wolves kill their prey.

For some reason wolves just don’t think of people as food. I don’t know why.

Read L. David Mech’s works about wolves if you want to know the real animal. For fun, read Farley Mowat, but don’t believe everything he says in it, either. Some of what he says is really good in it, but wolves do kill game species.  The Inuit he uses as a source actually consider the wolf vital to maintaining the fitness of caribou herds.  This tribe no longer lives as it once did, so the wolf is alone in that part of the world.

We need to understant that both Mowat and Graves’s work are both based on folklore. Mowat’s book is based on Inland Inuit folklore as much as Graves’s book is based on Russian superstition. Mech’s work is real science.

Certain political organizations are really good at putting crappy “exposes” of this type on the market. In the world of politics, we know this too well.

Here’s a video of some researchers observing a wolf den. Really dangerous animals, aren’t they?

Wolves can kill people. I’m sure it’s happened, but it’s far rarer than shark attacks. And we all know, thanks to Shark Week, that shark attacks are quite uncommon.

So we should use Russian folklore to create wildlife policy?

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Newsweek  is now doing some reporting on those people who still believe in the bigfoot.

Dr. Jeff Meldrum, who is actually a respected anthropologist, except for the bigfoot research, still thinks that science will eventually uncover the bigfoot.  I am glad that someone is interested in using science here, but I hate to tell Dr. Meldrum that most of what we already know shows us that humans are the only apes indigenous to the Americas. We are also the only primates found north of the Valley of Mexico. Gigantopithecus blackii was most likely a knuckle-walker, not a biped. No full skeletons of the beast have been found, and we know it only through fossilized teeth and few jaw fragments. It also may have lived largely on bamboo, which means that it definitely could not have withstood the conditions of Beringia. Humans can live largely on meat for a very long period of time. No other primate can do so.  That’s how we have made it in high latitudes. That some species of giant ape could cross into North America and remain hidden from science for so many years is simply not logical. As many hunters as we have, it is shocking that no one would have shot one.

I’m a bigfoot skeptic. I’m not a cynic. If one were proven to exist, I would be more than thrilled. But the evidence just isn’t out there.

However, Jane Goodall is a believer:

I’m still a skeptic.

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Ishbel Maria Marjoribanks married John Campbell Hamilton-Gordon,  1st Marquess of Aberdeen and Temair. They toured Canada extensively, eventually buying an estate in the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia in 1891, which was named “Guisachan,” after Ishbel’s father’s estate. It is believed that some members of the family brought goldens to Canada as early as 1881.  Aberdeen would eventually become Governor-General of Canada, and in this capacity, tried to implement various liberal reforms in Canada, quite an unusual step in this period known as The Gilded Age. (The Marjoribanks family were all members of the now defunct LIberal Party of Great Britain, a percursor to the one in Canada and the modern Liberal Democrat Party of the United Kingdom. This family was close to the Prime Minister William Gladstone, who was known for his concern for social justice.) These goldens were the first lines introduced into North America.

One of the first goldens in North America.

One of the first goldens in North America.

The Marjoribanks family also tried ranching in Texas, purchasing a large estate in Collingsworth and Wheeler Counties called The Rocking Chair Ranch. The 1st Baron Tweedmouth purchased it, and it was eventually ceded to his son Edward Marjoribanks when he passed away 1884. Edward, 2nd Baron Tweedmouth,  chose his brother Archibald (“Archie”) to go to Texas and help manage the property. Archie is said to have little interest in ranching or proper management of the herds. Instead, he was said to spend most of his time drinking, gambling, and hunting with dogs.  He was known to the locals as “Old Marshie.”

Among these hunting dogs on the ranch, Archie had a golden retriever or yellow flat/wavy coat bitch named “Lady.” She was believed to have been from the Marquess of Aberdeen’s stock or born from a bitch in whelp brought down from the British Columbian Guisachan to Texas.

Lady and Archie

Lady and Archie

This picture is variously listed as 1891 or 1893.

Because Archie was not a very good manager, the ranch hands began to steal the stock. Archie never mingled with them, and they saw their opportunity to rob the ranch blind. The senior manager, John Drew, was also stealing cattle. Eventually the ranch’s debts became too much, and the Ranch was sold in 1896.

However, the Marjoribanks family introduced the yellow retrievers to North America. This story may be the only example of a family founding a strain of dogs and then introducing that strain to other parts of the world within a generation.

Most of these dogs were very dark in color, and later imports to North America by Colonel Samuel Magoffin were of this color, too. As a result, most North American goldens were much darker in color than their European counterparts. The field and working varieties in the US and Canada are overwhelmingly dark gold or red in color. This was the same for our show varieties until relatively recently.

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Golden retriever and flat-coated retriever health surveys from the Kennel Club (of the United Kingdom) and the British Small Animal Veterinary Medical Association can now be accessed online.


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As I posted last week, the Georgia bigfoot was nothing more than a hoax.

Now the fellows behind it admit to it.

Basically, they did as I said they did. They took a costume and covered it in dirt and road kill. Then they got some pig intestines and put them on top of the costume.

So there we have it. No bigfoot in Georgia.

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Here’s the much anticipated expose:

*Warning: Not for sensitive or younger viewers!

Part 1, Part 2, Part3, Part 4,  Part 5, Part 6,

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Not so good day.

My fourteen year old retriever, “Strawberry,” passed away in her sleep last night.  She was just an old dog.

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The DNA evidence presented at the “find of the century” Bigfoot press conference today was quite hilarious. The findings showed that the three samples of DNA were an opossum (Incorrectly called a “possum” here. Possums live in Australia, while opossums live in the Americans), a human, and one that cannot be tested “because of technical problems.”  Meanwhile, a Halloween costume sits in a freezer in Georgia, while the bigfoot hunters presented their evidence in California. I guess if everyone saw the body, they’d know it’s just a Halloween costume covered in mud with some chitlins on top of it.

People wonder why there are bigfoot enthusiasts. I can answer this simply. People like spending time in nature. We will go out of our way to enjoy just a little time in the natural world. At least most of us do, and those who don’t really should give it a chance. That’s why people hunt and fish, but when you tell your wife that you’re going hunting or fishing, she expects that you bring back something. That expectation disappears when you’re a bigfoot researcher. You can spend weekend after weekend in the forest, and no one will expect you to bring back a thing. Plus, we modern humans once coexisted with other apes, even other hominids, such as our close relatives, the neanderthals. We like to believe that somewhere in the remote corners of the world, there exists people or hominids who aren’t like us, who aren’t spoiled by the trappings of civilization.

I would like to believe in bigfoot, but scientific evidence is really lacking. This existence of such a species is unlikely. We know that North America has not had primates other than humans living here (at least in the past couple of million years). Only central and South America have primates. All ape species, except us, live in Africa or Southeast Asia. There are no ape species in Russia or China, although one large species of Ape lived in China. It was a knuckle-walker, not a biped. It was a vegetarian. It could not have survived in the tundra and icy conditions of Beringia, and it certainly could have never made its way into North America.

One species that actually did make it on both sides of the Bering Land Bridge were the two Steppe polecats. The Russian Steppe polecat and black-footed ferret are close relatives that really did cross the land bridge. The black-footed ferret evolved to live in prairie dog towns, but when the lands opened up for settlement, the prairie dogs were shot, trapped, and poisoned. The grasslands became croplands, and the open range became pasture. The ferret was exposed to canine distemper and sylvatic plague. Its numbers were reduced severely. In 1967, the ferret was declared endangered, but in 1974, it was thought to be extinct in the wild. Luckily, a population was discovered in 1981 near Meeteetse, Wyoming. However, this population soon suffered a distempter outbreak, and by 1986, only 18 individuals remained. Those 18 individuals eventually were captured and bred in captivity to save the species. Today, approximately 750 black-footed ferrets remain in the wild. If we’d spend one tiny fraction of the time and money on black-footed ferrets that we spend on supposed giant North American apes, this species would be in an even better position than it is today.

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This is one of the best books I’ve ever read about dogs. It’s both a heart-warming story about a Lab-Redbone hound cross and wonderful piece of science and nature writing about dogs and their behavior.

Here’s the youtube interview with the author:

The website for the book can be found here, and you can link up to Merle’s photo album here.

Merle is given freedom to socialize with other dogs and experience nature, and he develops into an intelligent, but free-thinking dog. It’s a really itneresting idea that dogs should be given some freedom to make choices in their lives.  Last weekend, The National Geographic Channel carried a program about the San Franscico zoo tiger that attacked last the visitors on Christmas Day last year. The program talked a lot about new findings about carnivore husbandry.  Using mink as a study species, researchers found that if mink were allowed to make choices about their environment and given mental and physical stimulation, they were healthier than those who lived in confined cages with little choices or stimulation. Studies on mink and ferrets suggest that they are more intelligent than cats and more on par with dogs and primates in intelligence. These findings are certainly applicable to other species of carnivore, especially the social ones, such as dogs. Today, most dogs live in confined spaces for days and days on end. We can only imagine how much this is hurting their mental and physical health. Perhaps we ought to ban keeping dogs (especially large dogs) in cities and suburbs, unless they are given off leash excercise several times a week.  I know this is controversial, and it flies in the face of the current trend in dog ownership.

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This beautiful painting by R. Ward Binks depicts a typical working golden in the early to mid-twentieth century. At this time, most goldens were lightly built, like flat-coats, and the dark colors predominated. Today, this dog would be called “flat-ribbed” and “racy” and “not pretty.”  But I’m very much smitten with this type.

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