Saturday, January 23, 2016

NJ Woman Unjustly Persecuted For Saving Baby Squirrels

A woman in New Jersey is facing fines up to $1000 and even possible jail time for an act of kindness that should be rewarded rather than punished.

Last July, Maria Vaccarella and her husband took in a pregnant female squirrel that they found injured, possible after being hit by a car. They fed the squirrel until she gave birth to four babies, two of which survived. When the mother squirrel ran away, leaving behind the infants, Ms. Vaccarella cared for the babies in her home. She contacted a wildlife rehabilitator, who advised her to keep the squirrels until spring, when they could be released back into the wild.

The problems started  when Ms. Vaccarella wrote about the squirrels, who she named George and Lola, on Facebook. Her post attracted the attention of New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife officials, who came to her house in October, informed her that it was illegal to keep Eastern gray squirrels without a permit, and confiscated them. A month after that, she received a court summons with a $500 fine.

After recent publicity of this case and the appearance of an online petition, the State of New Jersey has offered Ms. Vaccarella a deal: she could plead guilty to the charges in return for dropping all fines, and just pay $35 in court costs. Ms. Vaccarella has courageously rejected the offer, stating "I can't plead guilty to saving a life. It's ludicrous." In response, the state has raised her fine from $500 to $1000, and threatened her with jail time. In addition, the Division of Fish and Wildlife has refused to give her any update on the fate of the squirrels.

If you agree that the State of New Jersey's persecution of Maria Vaccarella is unjust, you can click below to take action and sign the online petition on her behalf. Caring for helpless wildlife should be rewarded, not punished.

Read More: NJ 'squirrel mom' says she won't plead guilty 'to saving a life' |
I can’t plead guilty to saving a life. It’s ludicrous

Read More: NJ 'squirrel mom' says she won't plead guilty 'to saving a life' |

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Daily Princetonian Thinks Cruelty To Animals Is Funny

The staff of Princeton University's daily student-run newspaper apparently thinks cruelty to animals is fair game for comedy. This Monday, a blog called The Prox, on the paper's website, ran an article by Rebekah Shoemake titled "10 Reasons Squirrels Are The Worst." The post consists mostly of a series of .gif files with short allegedly humorous comments under them, illustrating reasons why the author does not like squirrels. Several of the .gifs were taken from viral videos, such as one in which a squirrel jumps on and wakes up a panda, and one where a squirrel is startled when it bursts a hanging water balloon. Ms. Shoemake also explains that during the recent winter vacation, squirrels got into her room and "trashed" it.

The end of the article takes a disturbingly dark turn. The last three .gif files show squirrels being hurled into the air by homemade squirrel catapult or slingshot devices. The slingshots in the second and third of the short videos look powerful enough that the squirrels were most likely injured or killed. In the second .gif the camera is at an angle where you can see the squirrel flying high into the air and then plummeting back to earth. In all three of the videos the squirrels were clearly lured onto the devices with food.

For obvious reasons, I am not showing the .gifs on this blog. I would not want to risk gratifying the sick people who made the videos. You can use the link above to view the Daily Princetonian article. I did a online search and discovered that there several videos on YouTube showing these and other "squirrel launchers" or "squirrel catapults." Of course, the videos don't show the aftermath, the squirrels dead or dying with broken bones and internal injuries.

I left a short comment on the Princetonian's article, and hope others will do the same. I have also expressed my disgust, and will continue to do so, to their Twitter feed @princetonian. I hope others will do the same.

At the very least, the Daily Princetonian should remove the article and let its readership know that cruelty to animals is not something to laugh about. The article's author, Rebekah Shoemake, makes it clear in her article that she finds the intentional maiming and killing of squirrels funny. In a mocking "disclaimer" at the end of the post, she makes clear that she is well aware of the consequences of the squirrel launching devices: "No squirrels were harmed in the making of this article... By me, that is. Squirrels were probably harmed in the making of the .gifs used. Please don't yell at me."

I think it's time to do some yelling. Cruelty to animals is not a laughing matter. Posting videos of animals being tortured, maimed, and killed as humor is not acceptable for any publication or website, much less for one run by one of the most pretigious univerities in the United States.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

British Landowner's Group Pushes For Cruel Poisoning of Grey Squirrels

The British war against grey squirrels is once again in the news. Earlier this year, Prince Charles engineered a "squirrel accord" that called for increased slaughter of greys squirrels in the English countryside, and later ordered a massacre of greys on his own personal estates. Now a prominent British landowner's organization is pressing for a reversal of the ban on a blood thinning drug for use as poison against the squirrels.

The County Land and Business Association (CLA) is asking the British government to license Warfarin for use as part of the "national action plan" against grey squirrels. Warfarin, a popular anticoagulant medication for humans, also has a history of use in "pest control," usually against rats and other rodents. Although often touted as a "humane" pesticide, in reality Warfarin kills its victims painfully, usually over a period of several days, of internal hemorrhage, an agonizing death that is anything but humane.

One of the proposed victims

In asking for permission to use this cruel drug, the CLA cites several of the arguments that have been used for years to justify the mass slaughter of grey squirrels in the UK, most prominently: that grey squirrels damage woodlands by stripping trees of their bark; and that grey squirrels are an invasive species that has caused a decline in the native red squirrel population, primarily by infecting red squirrels with the squirrel pox virus. Both of these arguments are flawed.

On the first argument, grey squirrels do sometimes strip bark off trees, particularly beech and sycamore, to access the sap beneath and to use the bark itself for nest lining. However, grey squirrel detractors tend to exaggerate the extent of the damage that this stripping does. The trees are rarely killed, and in fact the stripping can be beneficial to a forest ecosystem by encouraging the growth of fungi and invertebrates that provide food for birds and other animals.

Bark stripping by grey squirrels is seen as a problem mainly by timber harvesters who require "perfect" trees for the sawmill. However, the problem could be mitigated with improved land management practices. A greater mixture of broadleaf and conifer trees would reduce the damage from bark stripping and also provide a better environment for red squirrels who prefer conifer forests.

Regarding the argument that grey squirrels are responsible for the red squirrels' decline, this is a widespread but deeply flawed assumption. The truth is, Eurasian red squirrel numbers have declining in the UK for centuries, since well before the introduction of grey squirrels from North America in 1876. The primary reasons for the decline are habitat loss and deforestation, as well as disease. There is strong evidence that red squirrels were dying of squirrel pox in the early twentieth century, in areas where grey squirrels were not yet present. And up until the 1930s, red squirrels were widely regarded as pests and were slaughtered by the thousands, just as grey squirrels are today.

Also a victim

Proponents of grey squirrel "culls" (read "kills") claim to be conservationists acting in the interest of restoring the red squirrel. However, the true motive is twofold: the financial interests of the timber industry as represented by the CLA and other landowners; and a misguided nostalgia that sees the red squirrel as a symbol of past England that is fading from memory.

The fact is, most of the red squirrels in the UK today are descendants of squirrels introduced from the European mainland after previous local extinctions, so the current red squirrel population in England is no more native than the grey squirrel population. The idea that it is okay to slaughter one species in order to save another, or even worse, to maximize profits, is one that we need to lay to rest.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

What Do Squirrels Do In The Winter?

As cold weather sets in and we complain about the freezing temperatures during our morning drive to work, it's easy to forget that wild animals have to deal with the winter weather without the benefit of heated homes and cars. Squirrels, like all other animals that live in cooler climates, have evolved a variety of strategies to deal with the winter cold. Of course, the specific strategies depend on the kind of squirrel, and the area where the squirrel lives, so it's not surprising that squirrels have a variety of behaviors to help them survive the winter months.

One of the most widespread misconceptions about squirrel behavior is that all squirrels hibernate during the winter. The truth is that while many ground squirrels do hibernate, tree squirrels and flying squirrels do not. This detail was apparently missed by the producers of Sponge Bob Square Pants, who depicted Sandy Cheeks, the seafaring eastern gray squirrel from Texas, sound asleep for the winter.

Of course, everything else about this show
makes perfect sense.

For real-life tree squirrels, the most familiar behavior for coping with winter is caching food. The eastern gray squirrel of North America is famous for its habit of burying acorns and other nuts. Facing competition for scarce food supplies from nearby squirrels and other animals, the gray squirrel caches nuts over a wide area during the fall, a technique known as "scatter hoarding." It bites and licks each nut, leaving its scent before burying it. The squirrel retrieves the buried nuts throughout the winter using both memory and its keen sense of smell. It is said that a gray squirrel can locate a nut by scent even through a foot of snow.

Squirrels have refined their caching techniques to reduce the number of nuts stolen by other animals. They have been observed pretending to bury nuts when they detect another squirrel or other animal nearby, attempting to throw off any potential nut thieves.

Other tree squirrels have different strategies for winter food caching. The American red squirrel inhabits coniferous forests of the north, where it feeds largely on seeds from spruce cones throughout the winter. Rather than scatter hoarding like its gray cousins, the more fiercely territorial red squirrel gathers cones into a central location, or "midden," in its territory. The pile of discarded leaves from the spruce cones can sometimes measure a meter or more across.

American red squirrel

Although they do not hibernate, tree squirrels and flying squirrels will reduce their activity and spend more time in their nests during the winter months. In colder climates, squirrels will often alter the timing of their daily routines. Instead of going out to find food in the early morning and near dust, they will leave the nest in the mid-afternoon to retrieve buried nuts, and stay curled up in their nests the rest of the time. A small supply of nuts may be stored in the nest so that during a particularly cold stretch, a squirrel may be able to stay in the nest without leaving at all for a day or two.

Tree squirrels and flying squirrels are territorial, and adults normally nest alone. But when cold weather sets in, often several squirrels living near each other will gather in one nest, temporarily, to share their body warmth. When warmer weather returns, the squirrels will part ways and return to their own individual nests.

Unlike tree squirrels and flying squirrels, many ground squirrels (which includes chipmunks, prairie dogs, and marmots) do hibernate during the winter. Not surprisingly, the ground squirrels of colder climates are the most likely to hibernate, and the length and timing of hibernation varies by climate. Squirrels of higher elevations, such as the Alpine marmot of Europe or the Belding's ground squirrel of western North America, may have extended hibernation periods lasting as much as eight or nine months.

Squirrels inhabiting similar territories may employ sharply different hibernation behaviors. For example, the thirteen-lined ground squirrel, a very small species whose territory extends from southern Canada south to central Texas, may enter hibernation anywhere from late July to October, and emerge between March and May, depending on the local conditions. By contrast, the black-tailed prairie dog, a larger ground squirrel which has a similar range to the thirteen-lined ground squirrel, does not hibernate at all, but may go into a light hibernation-like torpor in its burrows for short periods during particularly cold weather.

Thirteen-lined ground squirrel in Lubbock, TX

The champion of hibernation among the ground squirrels may be the Arctic ground squirrel. Found in Alaska and northern Canada, these squirrels live in colonies that may number in the hundreds. They spend the short spring and summer eating and gathering food to store in their underground tunnels. They hibernate from September until April in burrows that are lined with lichen, leaves and muskox hair. During hibernation, the Arctic ground squirrel's body temperature drops to 27 degrees F (-3 C), the lowest naturally occuring body temperature recorded for any mammal. When they awaken in April, the squirrels feed on the stored leaves, seeds, and grasses that they stored in the burrows until spring plants start to grow outside.

An Arctic ground squirrel hibernating in a
laboratory at the University of Alaska

Squirrels are an amazingly adaptable and varied family of animals. They can be found in some of the harshest climates on earth. I have touched here on just a few of the strategies that squirrels employ to survive the winter months. Of course, our familiar city gray squirrels are always willing to accept a little help from their friends.

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"