One if By Land, Two if By Sea

Rats Against Mines &
Piranhas at the Beach

Without scientific research, we’d be probably living in Revolutionary War conditions. But no matter how far we’ve advanced, we still count on animals to do our own heavy lifting.
Take the technology developed for war, for example. Since immemorial times, we’ve been perfecting the art of killing each other and who has been our unwilling partner on such a devilish enterprise?
An animal, of course. The same being that we alternately treat as company, food, and deity representation, according to the mood that suits us best at any given moment.
Let’s no mention when we combine two or all of these projections and find yet new ways to mess up their lives to our own amusement.
When animals get in our way, poor things, it’s mostly to their own detrimental consequences. Either on a one-on-one basis or on a planetary scale, they’re usually screwed the moment we show up in the picture.
But just as if we were picking rabbits from a hat, let’s see how we’re making one land creature, the giant rat of Thailand, and two water-based ones, the mysterious octopus and the voracious piranha, play yet another part in our self-serving world.
These three so-called irrationals can inform both the state of our mutual relationship, and of our scientific grasp on this world. It goes without saying that in any event, they usually show more humanity than we’d ever be able to.

It may sound as the ultimate cruelty: sending innocent creatures into harms way, of the man-made type. But that’s exactly what may be tried in Thailand with African giant-pouched rats.
For over a decade, these rodents have been used to sniff out land mines or life-threatening tuberculosis in strife-ridden nations across Africa.
Now, they may work their magic in Asia too. Their lightweight bodies, along with accurate sense of smell, can safely test fields that the Khmer Rouge turned into death traps during its reign in Cambodia.
Nicknamed HeroRATS by Tanzania-based Belgian nonprofit APOPO organization, they’ll undergo training to learn the specifics of the job, which is traditionally done by dogs. As expected, they’ll take good care of such a risky business with not much more than a wag of their thin tails.

If you ever wonder how one goes about luring and putting under one’s command, say, an octopus, the posts published by satirist blogger Lyle Zapato can be very useful.
According to him, there are some of us who, every once in a while, are attacked by octopuses. To prevent that from causing harm is the reason why a copious research has been developed.
For example, it’s been established that an octopus’s vulnerable point is the neck, so putting pressure on it should stop a charging one right on its own tentacles.
But wait a minute, a charging octopus? That’s when the literature available becomes foggy and entangled with old science-fiction accounts, circa 1800s.
Those inclined to fishermen tales and the evocative narratives about the sea, may be familiar with reports of octopus climbing walls “like flies” and pursuing running men on foot.
We, respectfully, keep our judgement about such stories to ourselves. After all, Zapato is the author of a book called “Aluminum Foil Detector Beanie,” which he bills as a practical mind control for paranoids. Judging by his own Website, the theme is dear to him.
Back to his very entertaining account, though, it seems that octopus hypnotism indeed has been studied in the past, for just the kind of situation you’re minding your own business and, look out, there comes a charging octopus.
It’s at this particular juncture that we, respectfully, choose to direct you to Zapato’s findings, rather than dwell on the merit of his posts.
After all, as the highly developed cephalopod class of sea creatures is long overdue to further scientific research, we don’t mind reading about the off-kilter ideas our own species has had about them throughout the centuries.

A warning made famous by the Steven Spielberg’s movie Jaws, has been increasingly heard in the beaches of Brazil: Out of the water!
Except that the culprit for such a desperate call is not a gigantic shark but hundreds of piranhas, that freshwater fish with a reputation for a thousand sharp teeth and mindless group killings.
According to reports, about 100 people have been attacked by piranhas in a given weekend in the northeast of Brazil. And, since they have no natural predators, nothing points to a solution so far.
Local authorities have introduced another fish, the tilapia, to be the sacrificial lamb, so to speak, in hope to demote the piranhas from attacking the flesh of human beachgoers.
But the measure has obvious limitations. The sudden increase in attacks is attributed to a nesting season gone awry.
But some researchers point their overpopulation to Brazil‘s construction of several large-scale dams in rivers of the region, in the past decades.
By flooding large stretches of the forest, the dams rid the area of a balanced environment, which tends to be beneficial only to highly adaptable species.
While piranhas, which hunt in schools mainly to defend themselves, thrive in such conditions, their predators, which includes the rare, freshwater, pink bottle-nosed dolphin, does not.
Ecologically, piranhas are important keeping rivers clean, by devouring dejects and decaying meat in shallow water and streams. Once this system is disrupted, they are driven to wider bodies of water and beaches.
So, as the 1970’s horror movie help to contribute to the demonization of sharks, to this day still hunted to the brink of extinction, stories of merciless piranhas attacks won’t help their cause either.
H.W. Longfellow’s ode to a bygone revolutionary era couldn’t possibly anticipate the cruel reality behind the need for mine-sniffing rats, or the irony of having piranhas nipping at the tip of our toes.
Considering solely the faulty relationship we have with animals, though, one still wonders what would exactly be the motivation for an octopus to charge at us?

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