Lions, bears and cougars: oh, my!
The past few days have been very active with animal-related stories from around the world.
Our first story in this "digest" article is about an animal rights activist from Ukraine protesting poor living conditions for zoo animals, living in the lions' den for five weeks to raise money. The second is a tragic tale of a pair of cougars that began attacking humans in Alberta. The third is on the federal government of Ukraine, who vow to end a sickening tradition of animal abuse in that nation. The fourth covers an Idaho man and his interactions with the community. Our final story is about a truck carrying bees that flipped and closed a major highway near Edmonton, Alberta.
Some may call Aleksandr Pylyshenko a crazy person, or one that simply cares about animals far more than the average person might, but he pledged on August 3 to spend five weeks in the lions' cage in a zoo he owns in his yard, in the southeastern Ukraine city of Vasylivka — in the company of his feline friends, adult lions Katyua and Samson.
When asked by local media why he was doing this, Pylyshenko said he wanted to get money to improve the lions' living conditions. He will be broadcasting his survival with the lions on the internet to attract attention to the plight of wild animals living in private zoos in Ukraine, since they do not get enough funding for adequate living conditions.
Few things in the wilderness are more frightening than an attack by a wild animal. Cougars are one of nature's top predators in the Rocky Mountain Range of Canada and the United States, and sadly, cougar-human encounters often prove deadly for one or both parties.
A cougar was shot and killed by Alberta conservation officers after it attacked a little girl near Kananaskis. The attack occurred on June 31, while the girl's family was hiking near Barrier Lake, in Bow Valley Provincial Park. Her father managed to drive the large feline away, his daughter suffering only minor cuts and puncture wounds.
The reason the cougar was killed is simple, according to district conservation officer Glen Naylor:
It's attacked a human. It would do it again. That age group tends to be responsible for a lot of the attacks on humans in North America, and we just can't risk for that to happen again.
Just last month, one of the cougar's litter mates was destroyed after it attacked a dog near the city of Canmore. Both cougars were under two years old, and Naylor says the reasons for these attacks are that it's likely that their mother didn't teach them how to survive in the wild.
The mother ended her life prematurely, or they got kicked out early and they didn't know what they were doing. They were very poorly educated, and basically anything that moves was potential prey and unfortunately, small children definitely attract cougars' attention.
Perhaps it's a stereotype that Russians and Slavic people in general love their vodka and their bears. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know mixing the two is a very bad idea, for a variety of reasons (animal attacks; that getting an animal drunk without its ability to consent would constitute abuse...). This is why Ukraine's Minister of the Ecology and Natural Resources, Mykola Zlochevsky, vowed on Wednesday to free all captive bears in restaurants, according to Interfax. Kept for entertainment purposes, they are often abused and forced to consume alcohol.
The tradition of using captured and tamed bears for entertainment stems back to the Russian Empire, which included Ukraine, turning the animal into a national icon. Sadly, this practice has appeared to also survived the nation's emergence from Soviet rule, despite Zlochevsky calling it "inhumane and unacceptable today":
On television, they keep showing bears suffering in restaurants and roadside hotels. How long can we tolerate animal torture in restaurants, where drunken guests make bears drink vodka for laughs?
Zlochevsky said the Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources was building a large enclosure within a wildlife sanctuary, where 80 bears would live after being liberated.
Fursuiting may not be acceptable in Idaho Falls, Idaho, as resident William Falkingham has found out. Idaho Falls Police have told the 34-year-old man to stop wearing his bunny suit in public, after complaints from residents about him frightening children.
According to a police report, Falkingham received a warning from the police after a woman claimed she saw him dressed in the costume, peeking at her young son from behind a tree, and pointed his fingers like a gun. An investigation of the sighting led officers to question other neighbours in the area, who reportedly "expressed that they were greatly disturbed by Falkingham and his bunny suit". The police said that neighbours also claimed he occasionally wears a tutu with the bunny suit.
Idaho Falls PD's Joelyn Hansen said Falkingham told the police he "enjoys wearing the suit", though he understood the other neighbours' concerns, and that he could be cited as a police nuisance for his behaviour.
One of Falkingham's neighbours, Deborah Colson, defended Falkingham in an interview with Reuters. She said he has an "eccentric, but otherwise harmless habit of dressing up in costume and making appearances on his own property":
He's got the bunny outfit, a cowboy suit and a ballerina dress, but you don't see him except where he's tripping through his back yard.
Colson further added she was worried that news of Falkingham's at-home habits might make him a target of fear and scorn:
He's never done anything wrong but wear his little suits in the background. He's got a strange lifestyle at home but we all do weird things at home. It makes me so sad: people don't even do anything and they get laughed at.
It appears that Falkingham may have a legitimate civil rights abuse complaint, thanks to the United States Constitution's First Amendment, which guarantees freedom of expression, according to the Executive Director of the Boise chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, Monica Hopkins:
On its face, he may have a constitutional claim under freedom of expression. We have not been contacted by the individual, and as of right now, we have no plans to get involved.
Perhaps a highway shouldn't be named "13", due to the bad luck that number is claimed to bring. Highway 13 was closed by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police for several hours in rural Alberta, near the city of Camrose, after a truck skidded off the road and spilled a full load of honeybees.
According to police, the truck was headed west on Highway 13, between Camrose and Killam, southeast of Edmonton, when it tipped over, rolling onto its side in the ditch and strewing 104 beehives across the two-lane road.
The accident was caused by one of the truck's wheels dropping off the highway and into the ditch, causing the flatbed to roll onto its side and skid for several hundred meters, while the driver over-corrected in an attempt to get the wheel back on the road.
As bees swarmed the highway, the RCMP arrived and rerouted traffic around the scene, advising drivers to be alert and on the lookout for the insects, as they may have become angered from the collision. According to beekeeper Tony Rafaat, of the Alberta Beekeeping Commission:
I would not recommend anybody get too close because the bees are going to be agitated. They're going to be somewhat scared, disoriented and so on. There's probably a greater likelihood of being stung.
Unfortunately, the swarming bees made cleanup nigh-impossible. When their keeper arrived on the scene, he advised the fire department to spray them down with water and foam. The RCMP said this killed many of the buzzing bees, bringing the situation to a "manageable level."
Edmonton radio station CHED-AM 630 received a call from a driver named "Chad" who said he witnessed the accident, but it was still dark, and that he could not tell that the flatbed was carrying bees, though he did feel a few stings:
I had not as many as the RCMP officer on site, I think I took maybe 15, 20 hits, but you don't think about it with the adrenaline pumping.
Rafaat had a bit of good news, however. He suggested that any surviving bees would be unlikely to fly very far from the accident scene because they would want to reunite and protect their queen and the rest of the colony. He also noted that people "shouldn't get a bee in their bonnet" regarding the wayward nectar collectors, as they are European honeybees – not nearly as aggressive as the potentially-deadly African variety, which are known to give chase, swarm, and sting.
The owner arranged for several of his workers to assist in the cleanup of the accident scene. The surviving beehives were loaded up onto two separate flatbed trucks and returned home, with Highway 13 reopening shortly after. The driver was released after a precautionary hospital visit.