‘There was something very strange going on, bordering on sadomasochism’ … the street performer and his hyena. Image Credit: Photograph by Pieter Hugo
I first learned about Nigeria’s “hyena men” in 2005, thanks to a picture that had gone viral. The caption said they were debt collectors in Lagos. I knew I had to find them. The country has a population of 186 million people, though, so the odds were pretty low.
But then in 2017 a journalist friend told me they come from his home town, Kano, in the north. Two weeks later, I was on my way.The hyena men are itinerants: they never spend more than two days anywhere.
I found them in a shanty town near Abuja, the capital. Despite the language barrier we got to know each other pretty quickly. Outside of Lagos and Port Harcourt, I didn’t see a single white person in Nigeria.
So I probably seemed as odd to them as a guy walking a hyena in the street seemed to me.
We smoked some weed to break the ice. It turned out they weren’t debt collectors – they were more like town criers, traditional storytellers who performed in the streets and sold potions after their shows. I
t reminded me of stories I’d read about eastern European circus troupes in the 1930s – except instead of bears, these guys had hyenas, baboons and pythons.
Seeing them perform was unforgettable. It was a huge spectacle. They would beat drums to draw in the crowds, then take the muzzles off the hyenas.
Next they’d put their arms and even their heads between the animals’ jaws. The aim was to convince the audience they had special powers, and that the audience could acquire them too, if they bought their potions.
Millions of salmon spawn each year at Kuril Lake in the southern part of the Kamchatka Peninsula, Russia, attracting large numbers of brown bears.
Marco noticed how curious these two brown bears were and was able to capture the moment when they both stood up on their hind legs to watch what he was doing. The rain falling onto the lake added an extra atmosphere to the scene.
Image Credit: Photograph by Marco Urso/Natural History Museum.
Red pandas aren’t pandas. Despite their name, red pandas aren’t actually closely related to giant pandas (Ailuropoda melanoleuca), but it wasn’t until the last ten or fifteen years that scientists settled upon just where red pandas fit on the evolutionary tree of life.
It was clear that red pandas were members of the taxonomic “infraorder” Arctoidea, placing them in a group with bears, pinnipeds (seals, sea lions, and walrus), raccoons, and mustelids (weasels, skunks, otters, and badgers).
Research published in 2000 in the journal Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution determined that they were not most closely related to bears or to raccoons as had been previously suggested.
Instead, red pandas form their own phylogenetic family, alongside skunks, raccoons, and mustelids.
From a genetic perspective, they’re more like the skunks and raccoons you might find in your own backyard than the giant pandas with whom they share habitats.
Herbivorous carnivoran. As a member of the Order Carnivora, the red panda is a carnivoran.
But unlike most carnivorans, it’s not actually a carnivore.
That is, the red panda is a mostly an herbivore.
It’s actually one way in which the red panda is more like the giant panda than its genetic relatives: its diet consists almost entirely of bamboo leaves, plus bamboo shoots when in season, and the occasional fruit, flower, and (rarely) an odd egg or bird.
When you spend six years watching kangaroos, you start to see some strange things. From 2008 to 2013, Wendy King, a doctoral student at the University of Queensland, and her colleagues studied wild grey kangaroos in a national park in Victoria, Australia.
All told, King and her colleagues studied 615 animals–194 adult females, and 326 juveniles, known as joeys. The first time King and her colleagues captured each kangaroo, they took a number of measurements and then marked it so they could recognize it later.
From time to time, they’d find a juvenile kangaroo in the pouch of a different mother. Sometimes it would climb out, but then it would climb back into the new pouch, getting milk and protection from the adult female for months, until it was ready to live on its own.
Scientists have observed adoption in occurring 120 species of mammals. Other species that are harder to study may be adopting, too.
As for kangaroos, scientists have long known that if they put a joey in an unrelated female’s pouch, she will sometimes keep it.
But King and her colleagues have now discovered that kangaroos will voluntarily adopt joeys in the wild. All told, they found that 11 of the 326 juveniles were adopted over their five-year study–a rate of about three percent.
Given the commitment adoption demands from a mammal mother–a kangaroo mother needs a full year to raise a single joey to weaning–this discovery cries out for an explanation.Over the years, researchers have proposed a number of different explanations for adoption.
Some have suggested that mammals adopt young offspring of their relatives because they are genetically similar. By rearing the offspring of their kin, this argument goes, adoptive parents can ensure that some of their own genes get passed down to future generations.