Snorting, Barking Trains in Japan Save Animal Lives!

If you never had the Japanese down as a nation of animal-lovers, get this – on the Japanese rail network Animals Rule. 

Monkeys, dogs, goats, lobsters (lobsters?!) and a tortoise proudly hold the official title of stationmaster at rail depots around the country. The most famous to occupy the post in recent years was a cat called Tama, who died in 2015 at the good old age of 16. Her funeral was attended by thousands of local commuters and admirers hailing from near and far. Following a period of mourning, the newly minted Honorable Eternal Stationmaster was replaced by Nitama, a former apprentice of Tama who beat out other candidates for the job partially based on her “willingness to wear a hat.”‘

The only thing vaguely similar of which we can boast here in the UK, is the day last April when a large herd of cows took it upon themselves to congregate on Hever station platform in Kent. Strangely, in spite of having a wealth of applicants to choose from, Network Rail declined to appoint any of them to their staff.

Cows spotted on Hever station platform CREDIT: LUKE RYAN

But Network Rail does have one heartening animal trick up its sleeve. Paradoxical, startling, but nonetheless true – the rail network and surrounding land managed by NR is possibly the most biodiverse wildlife haven in the UK. An unseen Shangri-la for rare and endangered species such as the large blue butterfly, the dormouse, the osprey, the natterjack toad and the great crested newt. If we were permitted access, which of course we are not, we might also find an abundance of lizards, grass snakes, slow worms, water voles, deer, foxes, badgers, and bats.

But – and it’s a very big but – the network is both haven and hazard. Between 2003/4 and 2013/14 the number of animals struck by trains tripled, and the unfortunate animals logging up the highest death count are deer.

“Deer have excellent peripheral vision, but most deer incidents take place while the beasts are traversing the railway as part of their natural movement pattern between habitats at dawn/dusk – a time when more trains are running as part of the morning and evening peaks.”¹

What is Network Rail doing to prevent animals getting on the tracks?

Not an awful lot it seems. They “educate land owners about the dangers and disruption caused by animal incursions, emphasising the need to keep gates securely closed and encouraging them to use additional measures such as electric fencing.” 

And that’s it. Good as far as it goes, and fine for domestic animals: horses, sheep and cattle – but if we look for NR’s ideas on keeping deer and other wildlife off the tracks, we draw a blank. This in spite of their desire to minimise collisions and costly disruptions to the rail timetable.

Over in Japan, they do things differently

Yes, certainly there is the same imperative not to let collisions with animals mess up the schedule. (Magnify that sixty-fold. The Japanese don’t have a name for super-efficiency for nothing, and Japanese trains are precise to the second. Last November a rail company felt compelled to issue a public apology for one of its trains departing 20 seconds early, at 9.44.20, instead of 9.44.40 – can you imagine it!)

And yes, as in the UK, the most frequent victims of death by train are deer. The deer are “reportedly attracted to the lines due to a need for iron in their diets, licking up small iron filings left behind by the grinding of train wheels on the tracks.”

But in Japan it’s not just about the timetable. As their unlikely choice of stationmasters/mistresses attest, in the world of the locomotive the Japanese have a care for animals. And that extends to the wild kind, whose interaction with trains is too often fatal.


Creatures as small as turtles can come a cropper, as well as cause delays, so one rail company has worked with wildlife experts to create safe crossings in the form of special turtle trenches running underneath the tracks. Rail workers even carry out regular inspections to see if the little guys need an extra helping hand.

For the bigger animals the usual ropes, fences, and flashing lights have all been tried – without success. Now, displaying a creativity sadly lacking in Network Rail, the Japanese are coming up with all kinds of imaginative ways to prevent costly timetable disruptions and animal deaths.

The ideas

One of the most out there was someone’s brainwave of mixing water with lion dung garnered from a safari park, and spraying the solution along the track. Hey presto, it worked! Not one deer was run over. Even though Japanese deer have never seen a lion, it seems they recognise the smell of an apex predator when they come across it.

The dung spray though 100% effective, did have several drawbacks:

  1. The spraying was very labour-intensive, impractical on a larger scale
  2. It got washed away in the rain
  3. And finally, it REEKED! Railway staff, passengers, and folk living near the line alike, all complained

Based on the observation that the deer are drawn to the iron from the lines, one company developed another effective method to divert the deer – definitely less off-the-wall and decidedly less offensive than the lion poop  – ‘yukuru’, simple salt-lick blocks containing the vital ingredient iron.

When it really hit home

One night in 2015 a family of deer were crossing the tracks when a young fawn at the rear of the group was struck by a train and killed. Yuji Hikita, an employee of Kintetsu Railway Co. saw it happening. And continued to watch while a parent deer stood motionless, staring down at the fallen fawn for a full 40 minutes. After witnessing the whole heart-wrenching scene, he determined to find a way to stop such a sorrowful event happening again.

Hikita’s focus was on finding a way to help the deer cross the tracks in safety, rather than simply blocking them out.

He made an on-the-ground study of the deers’ movements. Finding hoof prints and dung (deer droppings, not lion!) helped him establish which spots the animals used as crossing points. The line was enclosed with 2 metre-high netting, but crossing places were left open. In the crossing gaps, ultrasonic waves formed temporary barriers at the riskiest times, dawn and dusk, but were switched off overnight when the trains stopped running.

The ultrasonic waves, inaudible to us, have the advantage of not being a terrible assault on human senses like the lion poop.

Hikita’s ingenious plan won him a 2017 Good Design Award.“This is an excellent example of how railway companies can tackle the deer-train collision problem from the deer’s perspective,” a judge for the Good Design Award said in 2017, “and it owes to the countless number sacrificed in the accidents.”

Meanwhile researchers at the RTRI (Railway Technical Research Institute) have been testing trains that snort like a deer and bark like a dog. With the usual Japanese precision and attention to detail, the formula is thus: a three-second burst of deer-snort noises, followed by 20 seconds of dog-barking.

The deer-snorting noises replicate deer’s alarm warnings to each other, which would alert any real deer getting too close to the tracks. The dogs’ barking finishes the job by scaring them away. And the snort-bark formula works. In fact, it’s proving so successful the Institute is considering setting up stationary snort-bark devices along the tracks near crossing places favoured by the deer.

Network Rail, are you listening?



¹Analysis of the risk from animals on the line

In Japan, custom trenches help turtles cross railroad tracks with ease

Japanese trains save deer with sound effects

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Fiona the Hippo Predicts Superbowl Winner – Harmless Fun or Shameless Exploitation?

“Fiona the hippo knows who will win Super Bowl 2018. This is science.”


Harmless fun or shameless exploitation? A bit of both. Fiona certainly looks to be enjoying her salad, so hopefully no hippo was harmed in the making of this video.

All I can add to my previous post about adorable Fiona, is that Cincinnati Zoo knew what it was doing when it appointed its marketing director. No profitable opportunity is missed. He/she is making the little hippo worth her ever-expanding weight in gold for the zoo’s coffers.

The zoo is non-profit, so let us hope all those extra dollars Fiona is unwittingly spinning  will conserve wildlife where we want it to be – in the wild.

Update 5th February 2018

Fiona was right on the button, or should I say, on the lettuce. She picked the underdog Eagles and the underdogs won! I believe the POTUS will be visiting Cincinnati this week. I do hope he doesn’t get to pay a visit to little Fi. Now that would be cruelty to animals.


Photo and video from CZ

Here’s Who Will Win Super Bowl 2018, According to a Hippo

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The Runaway Cow Wild Wintering With Bison

Image credit: Rafal Kowalczyk / Facebook

Scientists said, It chose freedom”. I say, She chose freedom.” The story of the cow who prized freedom above the safety of home.

The story is set in Poland. So, as the heroine of this tale remains nameless as yet, I shall call her Swoboda, Polish for ‘Freedom’.

Ornithologist Adam Zbyryt was the first to spot her near the wild primeval forest of Bialowieza. “It’s not unusual to see bison near the Bialowieza Forest, but one animal caught my eye. It was a completely different shade from the rest of the herd, light-brown” he told a Polish news channel.

On closer inspection Swoboda turned out to be a Limousin cow, a French breed common in Poland. In spite of living on the hoof, so to speak, and exposed to the Polish winter, she was looking good – apparently healthy and unfazed by the snow and the giant bovines with horns of her adopted herd.

Another sighting of Swoboda took place this week, this time by biologist Rafal Kowalczyk. She is still keeping up with the bison, and happily still in fine fettle. At night wolves patrol the edges of the Bialowiez wilderness. A lone cow would be no match against such fearsome predators. For Swoboda to be surviving there, the bison must be protecting her.

The defiant cow has survived in the wild in the rough, Polish winter. Image credits: Adam Zbyryt / Facebook

All the same, Swoboda remains a bit of an outsider, not fully integrated in the herd. And while that is a cause for concern, if she can survive the winter, not getting too close to her shaggy friends could be a blessing in disguise. What if a big male bison were to take a fancy to her? End result – a hybrid calf. Diluting the bison genes would threaten the survival of the bison population, as of now standing at a precarious 520. What the herd needs is healthy bison babies with 100% bison genes.

And worse for Swoboda, a half-bison calf would likely be too big for her to carry and safely deliver. It could endanger her life.

All in all, come Spring someone may have to guide Swoboda back to the safety of confinement with her own kind. (Temporary safety. Safe that is, until humans are done with her.)

Meanwhile, stay close to your woolly friends Swoboda, and keep on relishing that sweet taste of freedom!

Update 7th February 2018 Swoboda is not the only cow who wants to be free.  Hermien too. Heroic cow escapes trip to slaughterhouse, hides in Dutch forest for weeks. And there is definitely going to be a happy ending for this brave lass


Source: Domestic cow runs away, spending the winter with Wild Bison

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Christmas Spoiler – Rudolph is an Impostor!

Prepare yourselves for a Christmas bombshell guys

The most famous of all reindeer ever, the dude with the shiny red nose (how did he come by that schnoz, I wonder) is NOT WHO HE SEEMS. There’ve been rumours – confirmed just this week – that Rudolph has been masquerading all these years under a false identity. For Rudolph is not Rudolph.

I’ll whisper the dreadful truth: –

Shh, don’t tell the kids, but Rudolph… is… really… Rudolpha!

Kids aside, the hard facts must be faced – none of Santa’s dancing, prancing sleigh team are boys – it’s a physical impossibility.

This little video explains all.

By the time of the autumn rut, the male reindeer have grown magnificent antlers in preparation for the battle to bag themselves mating rights. But after they’ve clashed antlers, and done all the rest that’s required of them, they’re left flagging, energy low, having burned up nearly all of their body fat. Certainly not up to the challenge of pulling a gift-heavy sleigh from the North Pole all the way around the world and back again.

Not only that, but by the early days of December those impressive antlers will already have been shed into the snow. So by the time Christmas Eve comes round male strength is sapped, and heads are bare. How is that going to look on the Christmas cards.

Step up the girls: Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner and Blitzen. Unlike the boys, and still sporting their headgear – because yes, out of the entire deer family, reindeer females alone have antler equality with the males – they are Christmas-ready, fit and raring to go.

The first sighting of the girls in the night sky was celebrated in verse almost 200 years ago, in 1823

When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,

but a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,

with a little old driver, so lively and quick,

I knew in a moment it must be St Nick.

More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,

And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name:

“Now Dasher! Now Dancer! Now Prancer, and Vixen!

“On Comet! On Cupid! On Donner and Blitzen!”

(A Visit from St Nicholas by Clement C. Moore)

Rudolph(a) on the other hand, is a bit of a johnny/jeannie-come-lately. For more than a century Santa successfully negotiated the chimneys of the world with his regular team of eight. But in the thick pea-souper that blanketed the earth on the Christmas Eve of 1939, Dasher, Dancer, Prancer and the rest refused to come out of their stalls. They said to embark on the flight in such conditions would be madness. There were muttering about Health and Safety regulations, and even, unthinkably, about cancelling Christmas altogether.

But for that fateful fog, Rudolph(a) may never have got her big break. Suddenly, the luminous red snooter that all her life had brought her nothing but ridicule, now became a uniquely invaluable asset, indispensable to light Santa on his worldwide way.

Why exactly she adopted the alter ego of Rudolph is anyone’s guess. But the rest as they say, is history. It will take more than some smarty-pants biologist telling us male reindeer shed their antlers well before Christmas to dislodge Rudolph – the hero celebrated in song, the saviour of the Christmas stocking, Santa’s main ‘man’, from his/her unassailable place in children’s dreams of Christmas.


But now might be a good time to tweak the traditions a little. Real life reindeer (known as caribou in N. America) are remarkable animals, and have their own complex lives in the wild which definitely don’t involve pulling sleighs for us, or even for Santa. And the ‘rein’ in reindeer doesn’t mean, as we might have supposed, that that is their purpose in life. It actually has nothing to do with reins, but comes from Old Norse hreinn meaning ‘horned’. More reindeer/caribou facts:-

  • They are smaller than you think, standing at only 1.2m at the shoulder
  • They have clowns’ feet – wide spreading hooves that make perfect snowshoes, shovels to shift snow (to get at the food beneath) and paddles for swimming
  • It’s true they do have unusual noses – not normally red! – because they are furry. In fact their special insulating hollow fur covers every bit of a reindeer’s body from furry nose to furry feet, except of course their eyes
  • They talk to each other with their feet. When the herd is moving, “they make a delicate clicking or popping sound. Being surrounded by a small herd sounds a bit like being in a bowl of puffed rice as the milk is poured on to it”
  • They are long distance runners, travelling the furthest of any land mammal in the world, up to 5,000 km a year
  • They can run at up to 80 kmh
  • Surprisingly there are two herds numbering several thousand at the South Pole – well, almost. The animals were introduced to South Georgia a century ago and are still flourishing
  • But, once widespread in the northern states of the US, they are now the country’s most endangered mammal with barely a dozen remaining
  • In Canada, caribou populations have fallen by as much as 90%
  • Reindeer are also found in Scandinavia and Russia where their populations are estimated to have fallen by 60% in the last three decades

Main threats to these beautiful creatures are the usual suspects: human-caused habitat loss and disturbance by industrial development. And now, human-caused climate change.

And considering how wonderfully adapted are these gentle, quiet and sensitive animals to conditions in the Arctic, it is heartless and inhumane to bring them into hot, noisy crowded shopping malls and festive fairs for Christmas ‘entertainment’. So much better left in kids’ imagination at the North Pole with Santa.*

hsMnOHmm, it looks like Santa may have been hiding a secret too. Nowadays, he sails through the night sky on a Tesla electric sleigh. Don’t worry, Rudolph(a), Dasher, Dancer, Prancer and Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner and Blitzen are still there alongside the man in red as he chimney-hops around the world on Christmas Eve. But for reindeer heavy sleigh-pulling is so last century. In 2017 the famous nine will be dancing across the wild blue yonder – just because they want to, just for fun. 

PS Santa wants it to be known that he still loves his mince pies. Just make sure you leave him vegan ones


* Find out more: Why Putting Live Reindeer and Other Animals on Display Is Inhumane

If you live in Canada, please sign this petition to protect caribou habitat


Eight reasons to love reindeer even more!

Are Santa’s Reindeer Male?

Santa Claus’ reindeer

Earth’s Endangered Creatures

Caribou – An Iconic Canadian Species

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And the Winners Are … Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards 2017

We’ve seen the nominees. Now for the best of the best. (You may recognise a few familiar faces – and rear ends!)

I seriously doubt anyone could dispute Tibor Kerccz’s right to be crowned Overall Winner 2017 and Winner of Amazing Internet Portfolio Prize with these fabulous 4 images


Another worthy winner with “The Laughing Dormouse”, Andrea Zampatti


Highly Commended “Wtf” By George Cathcart


Highly Commended “All Dressed and Ready for Church” by Carl Henry


Highly Commended “Must Have Three-Putted” by Douglas Croft


Highly Commended “Hitching A Ride” by Daisy Gilardini


Highly Commended “Cheering Sea Otter” by Penny Palmer


Winner Of The Padi Under The Sea Category “Slap” by Troy Mayne


Highly Commended “Caught In The Act” By Bence Mate


Highly Commended “Monkey Escape” by Katy Laveck-Foster


Highly Commended “Animal Encounters” by Jean Jacques Alcalay


Highly Commended “Eh What’s Up Doc?” by Olivier Coll


Winner of The Kenya Airways In the Air Category “Duck Speed” by John Threlfall


Highly Commended “Mudskippers Got Talent” by Daniel Trim




Source Funniest Wildlife Photos of 2017 Have Been Announced

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Meet Naruto “Person of the Year”

Whatever you may think of PETA, this is a genius move IMHO. By honoring Naruto, the crested black macaque with a famously goofy grin, as “Person of the Year” the organisation is emphasising that “he is someone, not something”. And what a person he is! I only wish he were able to revel in this accolade – though as long as he is safe and happy…. Go Naruto!

Monkey takes selfie

To find out more about the strange tale surrounding Naruto’s fame, look at Naruto & the Selfie – The Case is Settled


Indonesia’s selfie-snapping monkey named ‘Person of the Year’

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Creative Crashpads for Funky Felines

“In ancient times cats were worshipped as gods. They have not forgotten this”

Calling all cat-worshippers! I have to ask: are you 100% satisfied in your own mind that the Pets-At-Home igloo bed you selected for your feline is up to scratch? Or did you go straight for the cat’s whiskers and lavish £50 on the deluxe Mr Snugs KatDen, only to find kitty curled up in the closet on your sweaters?

For a crashpad truly befitting your furry god or goddess, maybe, just maybe, you should have called upon the services of an ar-cat-ect. Yes, really. I’m serious. There is a wonderful organisation called Architects for Animals

logo-for-websitewhich every October invites architects and designers to make, submit for display, and donate their creative catnap-eries at their annual “Giving Shelter” exhibition and auction. All proceeds go to animals in need. This year, Architects for Animals’ 10th, the recipient is FixNation, an L.A. charity that spays/neuters stray, abandoned, and feral cats. Isn’t that purrfect?

Take your pick from these fabulous puss palaces.

HKS’s “CAnT WE ALL GET ALONG,” a fish-shaped shelter with birdhouses above
Perkins+Will’s “UnFURled,” a whimsical spiral shelter that’s actually assembled from a kit of interchangeable parts
Standard Architecture | Design’s “Catosphere,” a concrete and reclaimed teak pod
Abramson Teiger Architects’ “White Jack”

There’s no doubting who’s the star of that show!

Now, a quick flip of the coin, from the money-givers to the money-makers  – from the compassionate donors to the fat cats of re-tail.

(Apologies for all the corny cat puns. But you’d better brace yourself for more to come – I can’t resist😄)

A certain business better known for its vegan meatballs and Scandi style has also been getting creative for cats. Available for purr-chase is the ‘Lurvig cat cube’, designed to mix and match with the human furnishings. Infinitely adaptable to cat-er for every possible puss preference.

Even so, I can imagine Felis Catus looking on with cool disdain as we wrestle with the flatpack – a disdain that despite our best efforts, may well extend to the finally completed cat-ready creation.

Oh well, it can always double up as a bedside cabinet.

So that takes care of the cat crashpads. Now how about the fur-niture?

“Cats are connoisseurs of comfort”

Recent pet industry consumer research shows –

  • 80% of millennial companion-animal ‘parents’ regard their pets as family members. (What is wrong with the other 20%, one has to ask)
  • Americans spend more on cat food in a year than on baby food
  • And, music to the industry’s ears, 76% of millennial pet parents are willing to splurge on cool stuff for their pet before buying something for themselves.

Discovering just how much millennials are in thrall to their felines, the pet industry is naturally keen to create new product opportunities for the splurging. Would you splash out on these miniature marvels from Japan for your fur baby?

This sofa, made by Okawa Kagu is furniture intended to satisfy a ‘selfish cat’ that doesn’t do sharing  (Photo: Okawa Kagu)

This is fur-niture for felines of the highest craftsmanship. Nothing but the best.

So, now that’s all the kitty comforts sewn up, what does Santa Claws plan on bringing this Christmas?

“Cats seem to go on the principle that it never does any harm to ask for what you want”

  • I’m sorry, but I have it on the best authority, the standard supermarket pet stocking is not going to cut it this year. Don’t you know, a cat needs some a-mews-ment? A chance to show off her cat-leticism? So how about one of these?


Catastrophic Creations make these ‘Indiana Jones Bridges’ to order. If you are cat-crazy enough to measure up your home for one, expect to get ambushed from on high, that’s all I can say.

Or, maybe you’re this crazy…


Or, for the irredeemably bonkers, this…

Now that’s one website worth looking at!

From the pampered puss who has everything, back where we started – to the cat who has nothing. We too can help give a cat a home.

If you’d like to help feral cats near you, click here for simple instructions, using materials that would probably otherwise be thrown away, to make a cosy shelter. It may not be as zany or stylish as the ones above, but it will keep them snug from the winter cold and wet.

And/or sponsor a cat pod with the RSPCA. The charity took in 6,390 cats to its shelters last year. “With the current cat overpopulation crisis facing the UK and our centres housing hundreds of cats – more than the number of dogs and rabbits combined – [the cats] need our support more than ever.” 

And if you are considering bringing a new companion animal into the family, don’t forget #AdoptDontShop!

For more stylish designs from Architects for Animals, take a look here


L.A. Architects & designers build imaginative outdoor cat dwellings for charity

Home Furnishings Industry Creates Comfy Digs for Man’s Best Friends

Behold! Purr-fect furniture for cats

Quotes: Terry Pratchett, Joseph Wood Krutch, James Herriot – in that order

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Animal Rights Stickers – Yay!

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has a brand new emoji app for animal champions everywhere. Senior Advocacy Strategist Michelle Feinberg invites us to download the peta2 sticker app available now from both the App Store and the iMessage-specific App Store. All the stickers are 100% vegan and cruelty-free!

To give you a flavour –


Let’s get downloading. This app is going to clock up some serious mileage! Fun with an important – the most important – message…



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Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards 2017


Article by Angela Nelson

Brian Valente's photo of a laughing seal is a finalist for the 2017 Comedy Wildlife Photo Awards.

Brian Valente’s photo of a laughing seal is a finalist for the 2017 Comedy Wildlife Photo Awards. (Photo: Brian Valente/Comedy Wildlife Photo Awards 2017)

The 2017 Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards finalists have been announced, and this year’s crop doesn’t disappoint in the humor department with hilarious expressions, amusing antics and even a little fun with perspective.

While you may laugh out loud (or at least crack a grin), keep in mind the contest has a serious goal: highlighting wildlife conservation efforts.

 ‘Let Me Clear My Vision’ is one of 40 finalists in this year’s contest. (Photo: Arkaprava Ghosh /Comedy Wildlife Photo Awards 2017)

This year, more than 3,500 entries from 86 countries were submitted to the contest, which was started by photographers Paul Joynson-Hicks and Tom Sullam.

From 40 finalists, the category and overall winners will be announced Dec. 14. The overall winner gets a week-long, all-expense-paid, photographer-led safari in Kenya.

‘Hitching a ride’ is a 2017 finalist. (Photo: Daisy Gilardini/Comedy Wildlife Photo Awards 2017)

“Conservation was always at the heart of the competition, along with the fact that people seemed to enjoy images of animals doing entertaining things,” said Sullam in a statement. “But essentially living in a country that has some of the best wildlife in the world — Tanzania — and seeing how destructive human actions can be to this wildlife, made us want to do our little bit to help.”

 A terrifyingly big grin in ‘Smile.’ (Photo: Eugene Kitsios/Comedy Wildlife Photo Awards 2017)

Joynson-Hicks and Sullam recently released a new book of some of the funniest photos (the “best of the best,” they say) to come through the Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards. Some of the proceeds go to the Born Free Foundation, a wildlife conservation charity.

 Any mom will immediately understand why this photo is called ‘MOM MOM MOM MOM.’ (Photo: Barb D’Arpino/Comedy Wildlife Photo Awards 2017)

Take a look at more of our favorite finalists, including the fed-up mother owl above who has had it with her little ones.

 ‘Animal encounters’ is a 2017 finalist. (Photo: jean-Jacques Alcalay /Comedy Wildlife Photo Awards 2017)

He needed to get a better view — or maybe he really likes crowd-surfing.

 ‘WTF’ is a thing even in the animal kingdom. (Photo: George Cathcart/Comedy Wildlife Photo Awards 2017)

Redditors would have a field day with this elephant seal photo as a meme.

 Fun with perspective in ‘Outsourcing seatbelt checks.’ (Photo: Graeme Guy/Comedy Wildlife Photo Awards 2017)

It looks like this giraffe is peering into the plane as it comes in for a landing. Maybe this airport employs wildlife as part of the security team.

 All aboard the ‘Foster Monkey Escape’! (Photo: Katy Leveck/Comedy Wildlife Photo Awards 2017)

These two monkeys in Indonesia are making a getaway on a borrowed motorcycle.

 What a cutie in ‘Cheering sea otter.’ (Photo: Penny Palmer/Comedy Wildlife Photo Awards 2017)

This sea otter is living his best life and loving it. We should all be so lucky.

Source: These comedy wildlife photo finalists will make you belly laugh

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Scared of Spiders? You May Be Hard-Wired That Way

Ask kids what they are most scared of, and with one voice they’ll shriek “SPIDERS!”  Hardly surprising then that of all the phobias UK people suffer, nearly half involve creepy crawlies, spiders taking the crown. And no less than three quarters of undergrads canvassed admitted to some level of arachnophobia.

Arachnophobes have always been a puzzle to me. Despite having once been on the receiving end of a startling nip, I love spiders. The cobwebs in the corners of my house are designated conservation zones where no duster is permitted. Tell me, what’s not to love? Any creature that can draw silk like magic out of its own body, and spin the thing of beauty that is the spider’s web, deserves better PR – IMHO.
Just look at that cute little face!

My personal favourite has to be Bagheera Kiplingi, who out of 40,000 named species, is the only known vegan spider in existence! It’s name alone is endearing. This is what the BBC has to say about our little veggie friend: “Like other species of jumping spider, Bagheera kiplingi has keen eyesight, is especially fast and agile and is thought to have good cognitive skills, which allows it to “hunt” down this plant food.”  See, these little guys are clever too. (Apologies if the  ‘jumping’, ‘fast’ and ‘agile’ have triggered a phobic meltdown)

But come on guys, we don’t have any real monsters in the British Isles. The house spider we’re likely to find in the bath at this time of the year, or glimpse out of the corner of an eye hurtling across the floor of an evening in the flickering light from the TV, deserves to be a welcome guest. It’s estimated that one will chow down and clear your home of 2,000 unwelcome bugs and flies a year. OK, so it can be a decent-ish span from one hairy little foot across to another, especially 2,000 bugs further down the line, but it’s not exactly in dinner-plate-size tarantula league.

If you live in Central America, India, Australia or such, you’d be insane – and quite possibly on the way to meet your maker – if you weren’t anxious about spiders. But we have no spiders of evil intent here, no deadly wolf, no sinister black widow. So why the fear? If it can’t be the size, or the poison factor here in the UK, how come this irrational abhorrence of arachnids?

Arachnophobia does run in families. The question is, inherited or learned? Nature or Nurture? It seems plain commonsense that if mum or dad are scared of these beasties (and it’s more often than not mum) the kids will not be slow to pick up on it. So nurture then.

Well, yes, but not entirely. As with so many aspects of the human animal’s behaviour, unpicking the tangled web of the two Ns isn’t simple. In a 2008 study, 5 month old babies who were shown a variety of images, looked longer at the spiders than at any of the other pics. These babes were unlikely to have been ‘turned’ at such an early age. The finding indicated, the co-authors said, that “humans, like other species, may possess a cognitive mechanism for detecting specific animals that were potentially harmful throughout evolutionary history.” Arachnophobia could well be innate – evolution made us this way. Not irrational at all, but an aid to survival.

A more recent and wonderfully titled study, Spiders at the Cocktail Party, confirms the baby test finding: human evolution has passed down undiminished the ancient fear of the arachnid. This time students were shown a range of different images to identify, including several fear- or revulsion-inducing objects like needles and flies, as well as spiders. Nearly all the participants recognised the spiders more quickly than any of the other images, and also gave them more attention. The spiders were rapidly spotted, even when they appeared out on the display’s periphery, and while the central image was drawing the subjects’ focus and conscious attention.

“Spiders,” say the authors, ‘may be one of a very few evolutionarily-persistent threats that are inherently specified for visual detection and uniquely ‘prepared’ to capture attention and awareness irrespective of any foreknowledge, personal importance, or task-relevance.”

Or, in plain English: Try to complete any requisite task, and we’re beset with constant distractions. We may pride ourselves on exceptional concentration and ability to focus. But, it doesn’t matter how engrossed we may be, the one thing that is certain to grab our attention however peripheral or fleeting its appearance, and spark in us that instant phobic response –  is the scary eight-legged creeping and quivering, scurrying, scuttling, spider.

It really is all in the genes. You, my arachnophobic friend, are hard-wired this way. It’s normal.

Happy Halloween – and please don’t stamp on the spiders!


(What’s wrong with me then? Why can’t I be in the arachnophobe gang? What’s gone awry with my hard-wiring? Am I missing a gene or two? Maybe I’m a Neanderthal throwback or something. Any other dis-arachnophobes out there…. )


Frightened of spiders? It could be in your DNA

Why Are We So Afraid of Spiders? – The Independent

Eight Reasons to Love Spiders (Or At Least Spare Them)

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