Take It Lying Down

My uncle Tom told me a story in the comments of one of my latest blog posts about his friend, who had told him that if trapped in an enclosure with a large flightless and angry bird (either an emu OR an ostrich), the best strategy was to lie flat on the ground. The birds (either an emu OR an ostrich) are dangerous to vertical people, with their strong legs and sharp toes that are capable of severely injuring a predator or, presumably, a zookeeper. However, their legs (those of either an emu OR an ostrich) aren’t built for kicking things low to the ground, since they wouldn’t usually pose a threat to large, flightless, angry birds. We all wondered in a sort of musing and joking way which of the big birds it was.

That was then. Today I wondered with much more urgency.

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This photo was taken with my sister’s prized 50mm lens, lovely for portraits and landscapes alike and remarkably convenient and light to carry. It doesn’t have zoom, so if you wanted to you could probably calculate how close this emu was to the camera and, incidentally, to me. It kept advancing, head slowly moving from left to right as it eyed me and the camera pressed to my face. I kept shooting while walking backwards, but gave up after this shot because 1. I was about to trip over a curb (kerb, in this country) and 2. I was too busy wondering if I needed to lie down (was it an emu? Or was it an ostrich?) and wondering why it had never occurred to whomever came up with that particular strategy that emus have some very business-like beaks that clearly can reach the ground and presumably whatever the emu decided to stand on. Which would hopefully not be my body, my new camera, or my sister’s lens.

I decided not to test this strategy, in part because it seemed risky and in part because I was in the middle of suburban Exmouth, surrounded by trailered boats and little fenced gardens, and it would have been embarrassing. Fun fact: emus don’t really like it if you raise your arms and sort of yodel at them in a kind of panicked sort of way. (I do not know if this tactic works on ostriches.) This one shook its tiny wings and its fluffy rump, stopped advancing, cocked its head in confusion, and decided that I was uninteresting or not worth the intimidation. I felt a bit silly about this, and even sillier when a woman walked out her front door and started throwing breadcrumbs to the emus, greeting me with a cheery “G’day!” before asking, with some concern, if I was okay.

Australia, man.

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Nobody Keeps Baby in the Corner

My little friend from a few weeks ago escaped from her yard and found me again yesterday, but this time wearing a collar complete with name and phone number. So everyone, you may now officially meet Lilly, the Staffordshire Bull Terrier.

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She wants you to throw the stick. She wants anyone to throw the stick. I’ve never had a dog that enjoyed making “fetch” happen this much before (did you remember that yesterday was October Third, official international Mean Girls Day?), and though we had to go over a few ground rules (no diving for the stick while I’m picking it up, no snatching it out of my hand, no jumping up to lick my face when she brought it back) we had a rollicking good time.

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Staffies, as they’re referred to in this neighborhood (which seems to host a fair number of them, actually) are supposed to be both fearless and affectionate, which describes her pretty well. As she’s been visiting a house of biologists she’s been well observed, traits mentally catalogued, body condition assessed, behavior analyzed. It’s basically unavoidable habit at this point: we can’t help but notice the shape of her head (triangular, similar to carnivorous seals and supported by a strong neck, likely advantageous for vigorous shaking of prey), her short but muscled legs (well-adapted for lunging), and her very short fur, ideal for warm climates and not getting tangled in things. She’s a tough-looking little pup- if she weren’t always trying to lick my face or curl up in my lap, I guess I might think she was intimidating?

Apparently the breed was intended originally for bull baiting, in the days of “blood sport,” and have recently received a fair bit of bad press for similarity to pit bulls and other related terriers here in Australia (New South Wales, in particular). I suppose these sorts of things should make me warier than I am, but Lilly hasn’t shown even a twitch of aggression while I’ve been in her presence. The other characteristics this breed is known for are loyalty and rapid progress of affection, both of which I think it’s safe to say I’ve found.

I’m still not sure how I feel about intensive dog breeding. Inbreeding is a huge issue, and creating dogs for looks rather than health seems both dangerous and cruel. As a biologist I clearly have lots of thoughts about natural selection, but the purposeful selection of companion animals by humans makes me uncomfortable… Essentially what we’ve done to dogs is arrest their mental development. They act like wolf pups, lower in aggression, higher in loyalty and affection, shorter puppy-like faces and sweeter temperaments. On top of those traits, we continue to select and mate dogs for characteristics that can be detrimental to the dogs themselves- large heads, long bodies and vulnerable backs, size that cuts their life spans down by years… I love them all- ask any of my housemates, any of the Costa Rica 2013 crew, anyone in my family. But I still can’t imagine getting a pup anywhere but from a shelter or another person’s home.

Which is not to say that I will be stealing Lilly and being her best friend forever.

I probably won’t.

But I’d like to.

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Boats and Goats and Princess Toast

The relevance of boats to this post should be relatively obvious at this point- I’ve been trying to have my camera out while we’re on the boat a bit more, taking photos of fieldwork and the water. Here’s the newest member of Team Sousa (Natalie, from England) doing some #SCIENCE:

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Natalie has bought a bike in town, and as a result has been doing some in-town exploring that I have avoided in my general hunt for weird Australian flora and fauna. I think it’s been worthwhile though! A few days ago she came home full of stories about a man that she met whose family has adopted a baby goat, found on the side of the road. The man carries the little goat everywhere he goes, tucked under his arm; his daughter has named it Scarlet. We followed Natalie back to the home of the goat and definitely just happened *cough cough * to walk by in time for her to reunite with her new friend:  IMG_2665

We helped feed her, but as the man and his daughter told us, she’s getting a bit old to be drinking milk all the time and has begun to take apart plants in the backyard and clothes hanging in closets… At four or five weeks old, it may be soon time for Scarlet to become a back-yard goat, but we’ll see.

All right, so we’ve had boats and goats… now on to the princess toast. Tim had explained to us the concept of “fairy bread,” the name of which I had completely misremembered while trying to explain it to one of our Aussie friends. Fairies, princesses, what’s the difference? I’d have been happy to find out I was either back when I was a kid (get it? Baby goat jokes!). Anyways, fairy bread is an Australian kid’s party snack consisting of white bread spread with margarine and then coated in little colorful round sprinkles, like so:

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Hello, dessert, and hello Australia points. Now for the full Exmouth experience, we’ll just have to make a pavlova, swim with a whale shark, and see at least one poisonous land snake. Then we’ll have done it all.