A Congregation of Vultures


On the drive home the other day, I spotted turkey vultures congregated beside the road. I wanted to know what they were up to, of course, so I found a place to turn around and drove back. As is often my problem, I was on a fast road with little chance for safe stopping. I pulled over carefully, right into their midst, and they yielded place reluctantly. One of them hopped from the ground to the top slat of a metal gate. That had been my landmark, so I'd know where to stop when I drove back, but in fact I had no need for the landmark; the vultures were still there, and they stayed as I crowded my car up to them. It seemed as if they were waiting to see whether I'd just move on. But they yielded, flew off, and I could see them circling above—some of them far above, as I've seen many times, their fingered wings marking their silhouettes; one was much lower, circling behind the trees, close enough to show the raw hamburger color of his head. And there was that one that hopped to the gate, then waited another few seconds before taking to the air.

It was only after they'd moved up and out that I could see what they'd been eating. It was a deer, mostly gone: Rib cage, feet looking clubby and strange where they lay disarticulated and tangled in torn grass; most striking of all, the head, perking up as if to listen like living deer do. But it only looked at me with hollow sockets.

My other turkey vulture encounters:

And Steve V.'s encounter with black vultures:

A Beastly Menagerie


Sir Pilkington-Smythe, best known to readers of my links section as the wit behind The Ever So Strange Animal Almanac, has a new book out. The mission of A Beastly Menagerie: Sir Pilkington-Smythe's Marvelous Collection of Strange and Unusual Creatures is to catalog the weirdest animals on earth. This volume surveys such creatures as the microscopic water bear, which can withstand 1000 times as much radiation as a human; the male hooded seal, which doubles the size of its head by inflating the lining of its nostril; and the Jesus Christ lizard, which runs on water. My fellow danger fans will be happy to know that it also includes some old friends of ours, like the candiru, which swims up the human urethra and "sticks out a spike so it can't come out, even if you ask it really, really nicely, and offer it all sorts of cash incentives." On the tendency of vampire bats to share their meals with each other, Sir P. remarks, "All very well, if indeed the idea of vampires vomiting blood into each other's mouths is all very well."

Pilkington-Smythe is hilarious, but he's also well informed, and if you're not careful, you'll learn a lot from this book. The star-nosed mole gives him occasion to mention the ten (not five) human senses, and the mating habits of the right whale lead to a discussion of sperm competition.

I wish I had the vocabulary to tell you how beautifully designed this book is. It's the most gorgeous volume on nature I've seen since Eyelids of Morning. Highly recommended. 


The Daily Iowan on Deadly Kingdom


Thanks to the Daily Iowan, the campus newspaper of the University of Iowa, which profiled me on the occasion of my visit to Prairie Lights. Reporter Alyssa Harn talks not only about Deadly Kingdom, but also about the personal stories behind the book. There's even a mention of Parker's pet leopard gecko.

Kansas City Chimp caught on video

http://news.yahoo.com/video/kansascity-kmbc-18211647/escaped-pet-chimp-captured-unharmed-22540471

Here's video of the escaped chimp I mentioned earlier.

Iowa City Rocks

I had a great time at Prairie Lights in Iowa City, where Jan, Paul, and the crew really know how to make a writer feel welcome. It was great to catch up with old friends like David and Stephanie and to meet new folks like Sam and Luke. Thanks to everyone who turned out, and especially to Paul for setting the whole thing up.


The picture shows Prairie Lights' most famous customer. He stopped by in March. I emailed the other day to suggest he swing by for my signing, but I never heard back. He must have had something else going on.

Chimpanzee Breaks Lose in Kansas City

MSNBC is reporting that an adult chimpanzee ran lose in Kansas City yesterday. No one was hurt, but the chimp apparently did try to get at a motorist in her vehicle. The report claims the chimp weighed 300 pounds. That's probably wrong, as an adult female chimp would usually run less than half that size. Still, any adult chimp is much stronger than a human and capable of doing damage.


The chimp's owner eventually lured it back into a cage.

Zebra attack


In Zimbabwe, a woman was badly mauled by her pet zebra. The zebra also killed a cow. I kid you not.

The Devil Went Down to Iowa

I'll be at Prairie Lights, one of the country's premiere independent book stores, this Monday evening to read, talk, and sign copies of Deadly Kingdom. If you're anywhere near Iowa City, come see me.

http://www.prairielights.com/live





October 18, 2010 - 7:00pm
Prairie Lights
GORDON GRICE
Event Image
Gordon Grice will read from his new book, Deadly Kingdom. In this elegantly illustrated, often funny compendium of animal predation, Grice, hailed by Michael Pollan as “a fresh, strange, and wonderful new voice in American nature writing,” presents findings that are by turns surprising, humorous, and horrifying. Personally obsessed by both the menace and beauty of animals since he was six years old and a deadly cougar wandered onto his family’s farm, Gordon Grice now reaps a lifetime of study in this unique survey. Deadly Kingdom is both a good read and a great resource. Gordon Grice has written for The New Yorker, Harper’s, Discover, Granta and other magazines. His first book, The Red Hourglass, was named one of the Best Books of the Year by the Los Angeles Times and the New York Public Library. His work has been anthologized in The Best American Essays. 

Gorillas

Wayne Allison's images of gorillas.

More Monkey News

In Malaysia, a monkey has killed a newborn baby in a predatory attack. The article doesn't tell which species of monkey this was.

Lion versus Trainer



A couple of recent attacks point up the dangers of lion taming. The video above shows an attack in a Ukraine circus. The one below is from the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas. When captive lions attacks, the motive may be related to dominance. The lion sees an opportunity to achieve a higher rank in the pride when a more dominant animal--his human trainer--looks vulnerable. Once the attack is underway, the lion's predatory instinct may kick in as well.

Photograph This Ant and Win a Prize


Help! I'm seeking an original photo of a harvester ant. We don't have them here in Wisconsin, but you folks in the Southwest may still be able to find them at this time of year.

These are large ants with the nasty sting. They live in holes usually on clear ground, such as a road; the hole may be surrounded with gravel from their deep diggings. The top photo here shows the individuals clearly. The bottom will give you a good idea of their den sites. For those of you near my old home in the Oklahoma Panhandle, these are the very common big ones. I don't care which color.


I'm choosing photos for the British edition of Deadly Kingdom, and this is something I'd especially like to have, but I won't be able to take the photo myself because of the travel and so forth. I'd want an unpublished photo at high resolution. The pay for the winner will be a free signed copy of the British book. If I get several to choose from, I may post some of them on the blog.


Monkeys of New Delhi



At the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi, rhesus macaques have pilfered the possessions of athletes. This sort of thing is common in New Delhi. Monkeys even injure people on occasion. In one notable case, a city official died after monkeys hurled a flower pot onto his head. Hindus, who comprise 87% of the population of the city, hold the animals sacred. For that reason, the monkeys roam unmolested. At least, by people.

The solution to this monkey problem may be bigger monkeys. The Indian government keeps a squad of trained langurs for just such an emergency. These slender monkeys may stand five feet high. They treat smaller simians as rivals for food, and are often willing to kill them.

Wild langurs occasionally harm people, just as macaques do. These trained ones will remain leashed, as in the video above, until the trainers spot a likely crowd of trouble-making macaques.  
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