Chances are there's a menial task or three at work that sometimes make you think, "They could totally train an animal to do this crap." But be careful what you wish for. There are already critters out there who can do some surprisingly complex jobs as well as (or better than) us. So instead of worrying about being replaced by robots or underpaid overseas humans, maybe you should be watching out for ...
On top of making the all-time best-tasting substance ever upchucked by an animal, bees are pretty important for our ecosystem. So science has been doing everything possible to keep them from going extinct. Like, for instance ... getting dogs to smell them?
It's like sniffing a thousand butts all at once!
As it happens, dogs can detect something called American foulbrood (AFB), an extremely contagious bacterial disease that infects -- and eventually kills -- entire honeybee colonies. To prevent the disease from spreading, a four-year-old yellow lab named Mack (who has a Twitter account, naturally) has been working with the Maryland Department of Agriculture, inspecting hives for AFB. Thanks to his gifted sniffer, Mack can inspect 100 hives in 45 minutes -- a task that would take a human some seven and a half hours and probably do horrible things to their posture. The process is simple: Line up a bunch of hives and send in the dog, who sniffs them like a long row of crotches and sits if he detects something amiss.
But doesn't Mack get stung? Nah, because he does his fieldwork from November to April, when temperatures are cooler and bees are less active. Bazz, a black lab sniffing hives in South Africa, isn't so lucky. Turns out it's really hard to motivate a dog to keep sticking his nose in beehives when he gets stung every time he does it, so his handler had to get creative. After a "long process of trial and error," Bazz now has a specially designed suit that protects him from stings and makes him look like he's living in the post-apocalypse. Which he might, if he doesn't do his job correctly and the loss of bees destroys civilization. But no pressure, Bazz!
If you've been hoping to spend some semi-quality time with a goat and happen to also really enjoy golf, then boy do we have a deal for you. Thanks to an eco-resort in Oregon, you can now play a quiet round of golf with your very own goat caddie. Yes, an actual goat will schlep your clubs and beverages while you have fun whacking balls. And though they're not likely to give you any good advice on picking a club or lining up a shot, they are wonderfully nonjudgmental if you really suck. So we're definitely getting a goat secretary of Defense or similar before 2020.
Since the resort's newest golf course, "McVeigh's Gauntlet," is too steep for carts, the owners needed an alternative to golfers having to carry their own clubs. (Heaven forfend!) Enter four goats -- Bruce LeGoat, Peanut LeGoat, Roundabout LaDoe, and Mike LeChevon -- who were outfitted with harnesses and trained in the mysterious art of caddying (in French, presumably). Note, however, that these particular caddies come with peanuts which you're supposed to feed them so they don't spend the entire time eating the course. That's not a standard feature, we think.
Tuberculosis (TB if you're in a rush) remains the world's leading infectious killer, in part because it's an incredibly difficult disease to detect, with standard diagnostic tests identifying as little as 20 percent of patients who actually have it. So a group of scientists basically decided to throw in the towel in the name of humanity and hand this problem to ... the rats.
A TB detection center in Tanzania has trained whole team of African giant pouched rats to detect cases of tuberculosis missed by standard tests. By the way, the "giant" part of their name isn't an exaggeration. These suckers are like the Yao Mings of rodents.
Handlers place one of these big nerds inside a cage and load a series of samples into slots on the floor. The rat sniffs at each sample and scratches if it catches a whiff of TB. If they do their job correctly, the rats receive a reward of their favorite dish, banana and avocado. (We're surprised the headline for this story wasn't "Are Millennial Rats Killing Tuberculosis?")
How effective is the rat-based system? A rat can test 100 samples in 10-20 minutes, or approximately three days, 23 hours, and 40 minutes faster than it would take a human lab tech to do the same. Moreover, the rats catch an additional 40 percent of TB cases on top of those discovered by clinics. Someone decided that patients shouldn't be treated solely on the say-so of a rat's nose, so humans do run more intensive tests on the flagged specimens. But still, if you need to feel extra bad about yourself, remember that somewhere in the world, right now, a rat is saving someone's life.
The people of Thailand have two big problems (well, any country has a whole set of big problems, but for our purposes these two are the important ones): crime and dogs. Seriously, some 70,000 stray dogs are born on Thai streets every single year, which can get annoying if you're not fond of stepping on turds. So why not use one problem to combat the other?
Shame on you if you thought this was gonna be about drafting criminals into dog-hunting Suicide Squads.
Inspired by the scarcity of cops and the abundance of dogs, an animal welfare group is working to outfit Thailand's strays with "Smart Vests" equipped with hidden security cameras. Since dogs instinctively guard their owners or territory, the group's aim is to harness (literally) that natural protectiveness and use it to help catch criminals, like a gritty adaptation of Paw Patrol.
The cameras are activated whenever the dog barks, allowing humans to monitor what the dog is seeing via computer or cell phone app and notify the police if needed. Obviously there are a considerable number of false alarms, since dogs seem to derive a perverse joy from randomly barking for no apparent reason. We're guessing there are also hundreds and hundreds of hours of extreme close-ups of other dogs' butts, so enjoy that mental picture.
Tying a sponge to a ferret and sending it through a tube is, shockingly, not a euphemism for a sex act, but what the U.S. military once did to clean a particle accelerator, as we've previously covered. They also used a ferret to run the cables for a missile warning center, which is either impressive or very worrying, depending on how you look at things. Anyway, it turns out that ferret electricians work for civilians too.
In 1999, organizers of the Party in the Park millennium concert in London needed lots and lots of cables and wires for television, lighting, sound, and whatever else made concert magic happen back then (yes, they had electricity in 1999). Trouble was, the existing underground tunnels were so small that nobody could run the wires through them. Nobody human, anyway. Three "highly trained" ferrets named Beckham, Posh, and Baby came to the rescue. On loan from the National Ferret Association -- a real thing that exists -- the trio successfully wired the entire venue in time for New Year's Eve, before presumably performing Alvin and the Chipmunks-esque versions of Spice Girls hits during the show.
That wasn't the first time ferrets rescued a high-profile event. According to James Mackay, Director of the National Ferret School (also a real thing that exists), "ferrets were used to lay the TV cable for use during the broadcast of the festivities of Charles and Diana's 1981 wedding." Going back even further, a ferret installed camera cables outside Buckingham Palace for the Queen's Silver Jubilee in 1977. That particular ferret had to be coerced with bacon, probably on the advice of his representative from the Ferret Union, which we're sure is another real thing that exists.
In recent years, coyotes have started invading urban areas, overcoming their natural fear of humans. That's good news for their therapy sessions, but bad news for us. Efforts to eradicate them have failed spectacularly, since coyotes under pressure from hunters simply start producing bigger litters and replicate like larger, meaner bunnies. In other words, the more annoying and awful they get, the more of them there seem to be. They're the Instagram celebrities of the animal kingdom.
The solution: donkeys. As it turns out, when donkeys catch one whiff of a coyote in their territory, they drop their sweet, stubborn demeanor and proceed to lose it on the first one they catch. Naturally aggressive toward anything canine-shaped, donkeys will chase, stomp, and bite the intruders, making them ideal guardians for a herd. If you don't believe us, we invite you to browse the disturbingly prolific "donkey mauling coyote" section of YouTube.
But donkeys are still donkeys, and occasionally you'll get one who doesn't give two craps if a coyote eats every last animal in its pasture. In that case, you might up your game and go for the Hail Mary solution guaranteed to solve even the worst coyote problem: an attack llama.
These goofballs are scarily effective. Most ranchers who use llamas for herd protection report a "100 percent reduction in their predator losses after employing the animal as a guard." According to Purdue University, one llama can effectively protect up to 2,000 sheep over 300 acres, giving you an awful lot of anti-coyote bang for your bucks. What will we do once llamas realize they are this planet's apex predator, you ask? Oh, probably die.
Ever considered trying your own beehive?
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