Monday, October 4, 2010

Drunk animals

This is not a post about giving your dog a beer. It is a weird news round-up of animals that get inebriated on their own by ingesting fruit - usually apples or crab apples - that has fallen to the ground and fermented. One of these was a hedgehog found squealing loudly and rolling around an orchard in Devon, England, in 2009. "Tipsy," as he was dubbed, was brought to the nearby Prickly Ball Hedgehog Hospital to recover.* A dizzy and glassy-eyed moose made a spectacle of himself in front of holiday shoppers in Anchorage, Alaska, in 2007 when he got tangled in the Christmas lights. After the winter thaw, cedar waxwings are known for eating fermented berries and flying under the influence. And a officials in Colorado in 2006 were called to handle a drunk and disorderly bear near an elementary school. Although some instances are comical, it's not all fun and games. Otherwise docile animals have been known to hurt themselves or threaten humans. A drunken elk was euthanized after terrorizing Swedish schoolchildren, and - also in Sweden - an intoxicated moose and her calf were run off after getting aggressive with members of a retirement home. A woman in Cornwall, England, was frightened by the sound of an animal in distress at 3am in 2008. "When I looked outside, I saw this massive animal in the dark and I thought the Beast of Bodmin Moor was in the pool," she describes. "I was terrified, but when I took a closer look I realised it was a horse. I didn't have a clue what to do next. Who do you call when there's a horse stuck in your swimming pool?" In Sweden in 2006, a moose on a binge fell through some ice and drowned. In 2009, a Swedish elk killed a woman whose husband was arrested for the crime. "My family and I have been dragged through a nightmare," says Ingemar Westlund, who was only cleared after forensic analysis found elk hair and saliva on his wife's clothes.

A 1974 documentary about southern Africa includes footage of staggering baboons, giraffes, elephants, and warthogs that have indulged in the rotten fruit of the marula tree, although experts have claimed that some scenes were likely staged. In a more recent documentary about the Caribbean island of St. Kitt's, the BBC shows vervet monkeys that have transferred their taste for fermented sugar cane grown to make rum directly to the rum drinks of visiting tourists. Researchers have noticed parallels between their behavior and our own, such as the fact that the number of monkeys that abstain from alcohol is exactly proportional to human teetotalers. But whether or not we can extrapolate from the drinking behavior of animals to the human animal, it has been shown that the animals and the plants have a mutually beneficial relationship. The stationary plant need to spread their seeds beyond their immediate area. By eating the fermented fruit, birds and mammals carry the seeds from the source in their digestive tracts, and deposit them in their poop, which acts as a fertilizer. For their trouble, the animals gain nutrients and a buzz.

*The hedgehog in the above photo is not Tipsy, but does look a bit looped.

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