Meet the animal criminals, including drunk elephants and monkey impersonators
Shakira has become the latest victim of animal aggression when she was attacked by wild boars while walking in a park in Barcelona with her eight-year-old son.
The Colombian singer said the animals grabbed her bag with her mobile phone in it and retreated into the woods.
“They’ve destroyed everything,” said the star, who lives in the Spanish capital with her footballer husband Gerard Piqué.
But Shakira’s scary experience is certainly not isolated – in 2016, Spanish police received 1,187 phone calls about wild hogs plundering cat-feeders, attacking dogs, holding up traffic and even colliding with cars in the city.
Wild boars have also been taking over Rome, where footage shows dozens of the animals strolling past cars and pedestrians on busy roads.
And the aggressive hogs are not the only animals with a proclivity for breaking man-made laws.
In August last year, a pig running wild in Berlin stole a laptop from a man sunbathing naked.
Incredibly, in the past animals breaking laws would be given lawyers and put on trial – but the way we deal with law-breaking wildlife today has become increasingly complex as we try to impose our own rules on them.
And every so often, a human is found guilty of a crime that was in fact committed by a wild animal. Most famously, there is the case of Lindy Chamberlain, the Australian woman who screamed that she’d seen a dingo run off with her nine-week-old baby while the family was camping near Ayers Rock in 1980.
She was wrongly convicted of the killing, but dingos had – in fact – eaten her baby.
From drunk elephants, to jaywalking moose, to vandalising gulls in the Vatican and monkey impersonators, science writer Mary Roach has delved into the weird wonderful world of “animal crimes” in her latest book, Animal, Vegetable, Criminal: When Nature Breaks the Law, in a bid to answer the head-scratching question: What is the proper course when nature breaks laws intended for people?
In India, around 500 people are killed every year in encounters with wild elephants, Mary reveals.
Government policy is to compensate the families but not – with a few exceptions – to destroy the elephant. The state with the highest numbers – 403 deaths in the past five years – is West Bengal.
But elephants aren’t usually preying on people – most deaths are simply accidents due to the elephant’s immense size (6,000 pounds on average – or the weight of a large delivery truck).
Mary speaks to Saroj Raj, the range officer for the Bamanpokhri Beat of the local forest division in the region, where every year since 2016 someone has been killed by an elephant.
He says: “Elephants sometimes kill the way cars kill: by being large and running into – or over – something much smaller.
“These elephants were not in the intention to kill.”
Alarmingly, elephants can be even more dangerous when they’re drunk – and they do enjoy a tipple.
In North Bengal, elephants drink haaria, a home brew also enjoyed by the locals.
But elephants lack the main enzyme that breaks down ethanol, meaning they can get drunk very easily.
According to Officer Raj, two things happen when elephants have had one too many. Most just stumble away from the herd and sleep it off. But every herd seems to have an aggressive drunk – the matriarch, often, or a bull in musth (when reproductive hormones spike causing aggressive behaviour). Whatever you do in this life, stay away from an inebriated bull elephant in musth, he warns.
In the course of researching her book, Mary herself became the victim of overzealous monkeys who mugged her bag of bananas in northern India.
Mischievous macaques have been known to sneak into swimming pools, courts and even into India’s Government buildings. One lawyer told Mary about a macaque that infiltrated a medical institute and began pulling IV needles out of patients’ arms and “sucking the glucose like a child with a straw in a pop bottle”.
And in the past decade she describes a “minor epidemic of people plummeting from balconies because of monkeys”. She found accounts of six deaths in the last three years alone and recounts the famous death of Delhi deputy mayor S. S. Bajwa, who hurtled over a railing after being startled by a group of macaques storming his house to look for food.
In 2008, the Delhi city government passed legislation prohibiting the feeding of wild monkeys but no fines have been issued.
Now scientists are looking into ways to impose birth control on problem animals, with one team looking into an immunocontraceptive vaccine for macaques.
While it might be human instinct to swerve or break when you see an animal in the road while you’re driving, it’s recommended that you do neither.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the US estimates that 10,000 people per year are injured when they take evasive action to avoid hitting an animal – that’s only 2,000 fewer than the number injured when the vehicle actually hits the animal. And in fatal vehicle-animal crashes, the initial impact rarely kills or even hurts people. People usually die when the vehicle skids or goes off the road and collides with something more dangerous than an animal crossing the road.
The exception is larger animals, such as deer or horses, that can kill people when they crash through the windshield.
For that reason Volvo created a “large animal detection system” in its cars, with students in the 1980s even creating a moose crash test dummy to test its efficacy
Mary advises that if you “plan to be driving in far northern regions where tall ungulates are likely to dart into the road” you might want to consider a Saab or a Volvo, as their roof pillars and windshields are designed and reinforced with input from the moose crash test dummy.
Summing up, she says: “Do not brake excessively or swerve wildly for a small creature, no matter how cute. Do swerve and brake and run off the road for a camel on an empty desert highway, because there’s nothing to run into but sand.”
In the UK, we’re overfamiliar with stories of pesky gulls attacking pensioners, abducting pet Chihuahuas by the scruff of the neck, pooing in the sea and stealing breakfast straight from our hands.
They even eat their own young – an article by Jasper Parsons, who analysed the macabre spectacle on Scotland’s Isle of May, revealed gull’s propensity for cannibalism.
They’re not just pests in the UK – they destroyed a floral display at St. Peter’s Basilica on the eve of the pope’s 2017 Easter Mass in what appeared to be “an act of senseless vandalism”.
But new lasers could be the key to gull deterrence and have been successfully used in Rome.
They make firefly flashes as the beams touch the plants in their whizzing circuit of the altar area, explains Mary.
On seeing the lasers at work in Rome, she says: “They appear to be doing their job. From what I can see from back behind the security fencing, [the] flowers are unmolested. Thirty gulls are asleep at the base of a fountain in the center of the square, drawn to the heat of the cobblestones.”
How to survive a bear attack
Mary meets Aaron Koss-Young, of Yukon Conservation Officer Services in Canada, who advises on what to do if you’re unlucky enough to encounter a bear.
The most important thing to consider, Aaron says, is not what kind of bear you are facing, but what kind of attack. Is it predatory or is it defensive?
The recommended response to a “bluff” from a bear who is trying to act big and scary to get you to back off is to be as non-threatening as you can. Back away slowly and talk to the animal in a calm voice.
You’ll probably be fine – even if the bear is a sow with cubs, says Aaron.
The predatory bear attack, which is surprisingly rare, begins quietly, with focused intent.
The bear may be following at a distance, circling around, disappearing and reappearing. If a bear starts to charge with its ears laid flat, you’re the one who needs to look scary, advises Aaron.
Open your jacket to make yourself look larger. If you’re in a group, get together and yell, so you look like one big, loud creature.
“Try to give the message, ‘I am not going to give up without a fight,’” Aaron says. “Stomp your feet, throw rocks.”