The Freaky Trigger Top 25 Animals

3
Mar 05

The FT Top 25 Animals – 25. Red Squirrels

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Top? What does that mean? Cutest? Best in a fight? Most legs? Apparently our scientific method needs nothing as impecunious as a yardstick – these animals are top. That’s all you need to know.

Perhaps the absence of criteria hides a mess of too many, including some that might be difficult to admit to. Do you dare wonder why you champion the cuddly or the behemothic? What really appeals about the doe eyes or snarling tooth? Something to bear in mind as our menagerie debuts with one of the most popularly anthropomorphised animals ever, the Red Squirrel.

For all Beatrix Potter’s branding and their amazing nut retrieval tricks, Red Squirrels are best known for the story of their decline. Once common in British suburbia, and famous for their thrifty ways, for decades they have been fighting for their food source against the larger, allegedly more aggressive Grey Squirrel. Somehow, in the assembled imagination, Red hoarding gave way to Grey plunder, and the Reds’ population suffered. In this pseudo-fable of gatherers and thieves, the Red Squirrels are the heroes, and their tragedy is that they have all but lost.

But the recollection of them is pervasive – plenty have tales of the their abundance, or a special meeting with one, usually years ago, perhaps with thoughts of better afternoons gone by.

Conversationally, their rareness has turned into disappearance, their memory a myth of suburban parks. There still are plenty throughout Britain, although mainly in the northeast and Scotland, and if the forests are managed well then apparently the Greys may not crowd them out. But that’s too late – their place is already set. They are the underdog, the elegant and noble threatened by the thuggish masses. Red squirrels are edging towards folklore, inhabiting a half remembered past, when the woodland creatures were brighter, and the morality was clear too.

The FT Top 25 Animals – 24. Pig

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The pig is one of the most versatile animals in the kitchen (pork, sausage, bacon, scratchings, ears, trotters, rilettes, belly, all manner of fat-based goodness) and for this alone we love it. But its uses in rhetoric are almost as broad.

Greed is the root metaphor for pigs. The heroine in Spirited Away sees her parents transformed into hogs after they over-indulge – Odysseus’ crew meet a similar fate. Pigsy’s greed in Monkey expands to include other animal lusts. The symbolic pig is lazy, fat, ugly, greedy, a net consumer – the lusty elements we find in Pigsy also have echoes in the sobriquet “male chauvinist pig”. The identification of police and pigs is surely one of last century’s most effective insult-memes, dehumanising the figure of the cop and identifying him with odious greed instead of frightening authority.

No surprise then that positive pig portrayals have fought back. The bulky, slow-moving adult porker inspires some revulsion – it is the ultimate domesticated farm animal after all, meat-eating at its least decorative, a waddling bag of food-to-be with no purpose beyond eating, breeding and being et. But the young piglet is undeniably sprightly and cute, and this cuteness has formed the basis for most pro-pig fiction. Babe is the Peter Pan of pigdom – saved from the knife, yes, but with his less athletic future studiously ignored.

Defenders of the pig though can at least always fall back on the three core PIG FACTS.

1. They are very clever animals. (I have never seen proof of this.)
2. They are actually very clean. (I have never seen proof of this either.)
3. They have a corkscrew-shaped dick. (Thankyou, Channel 5 and R.Loos)

7
Mar 05

THE FT TOP 25 ANIMALS – 23. Narwhals

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Alix writes:

Narwhals are rarely seen and their lifestyle is poorly documented. They live in the Arctic but churlishly avoid Siberia and Alaska. Their most distinctive feature is their ridiculous tusk. Only the males have this tusk (females being toothless), and it is actually a tooth that has grown through the upper lip. Narwhals are around sixteen feet in length, and the tusk is 7-10 feet long, which is an absurd body to tusk ratio. Sometimes two teeth grow through the lip, and twist round each other, forming a spiral tusk.

The unicorn legend is reinforced by the existence of narwhals. Sightings of narwhals have been reported as sightings of unicorns and travellers have returned with narwhal horns and passed them off as unicorn horns. If you grind up the tusk it makes magic powder. However, you can only buy the tusk using magic beans. Or on the black market. Tusks retail at around ’2300 and can be used for magic purposes or you can make them into goblets.

Nobody is sure what the tusk is used for (whilst still attached to the narwhal) – there are suggestions that it is used during courtship rituals as a crazily lethal submarine jousting weapon, or that it is used to obtain food. To my disappointment all of the websites I visited were certain that it isn’t used for killing. My favourite is the suggestion is that it is used to channel and amplify sonar pulses. The clicks and trills that they use to communicate are deafening to the human ear. No one has ever been physically attacked by a narwhal, but no statistics are available regarding deafenings inflicted by narwhal. They eat squid, halibut and flatfish. Again, no one is sure how they kill their prey but its been suggested that they make a really loud noise and stun their prey.

The meaning of ‘narwhal’ in Old Norse is ‘corpse whale’, derived either from its cadaverous skin, or from its tendency to float motionless, belly up, for long periods. They are insulated by 4 inches of blubber and the largest narwhal ever eeighed 3500 pounds. That’s approximately equivalent to 116 Andy Fordhams, plus a few of Girls Aloud.

Narwhals are hunted by the Inuit (Inuit is another word for Eskimo). The Inuit call them qilalugat tugaliit. That’s actually true; I haven’t just sat on the keyboard. They burn the oil, feed the meat to sled dogs and eat the skin as it is packed with Vitamin C, and according to one website ‘tastes like seafood’ (Surely it is seafood? It lives in the sea after all). Polar bears, orcas, sharks and walruses also hunt narwhal. In a race between a narwhal and a killer whale the narwhal would win. If the killer whale overtakes, it will ram the narwhal head on, knocking it unconscious, then eat the narwhal. That’s the reason why narwhals are in this list and Free Willy isn’t.

THE FT TOP 25 ANIMALS – 22. Kittens

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neoteny n. The retention of juvenile characteristics in the adults of a species

Such as being amused by nob gags? I suspect not. The film Team America: World Police is packed with juvenile humour – it appealled only to the base, the vulgar, those with no sense of decency. What a great film. But there is ONE terrific joke in it that manages to appeal to even those of a refined disposition: RELEASE THE PANTHERS!*

Kittens are an elemental force of nature – tiny bundles of energy that are less the young of a species, more the mass-noun for a fundamental feature of the universe. Gamboling among the quantum-foam of the universe are the bosons, fermions, pions (mm, Pions), kaons, and atomic kittens. All chasing that elusive cosmic string, running too fast, then skidding on the lino of time and tumbling bum over head. Aw, bless!

The only member of our top 25 that is defined by its youth, Kittens are the epitome of the evolutionary desirability of neoteny – somehow more so than human babies, as (unrelated) human babies rarely have the same ticklish effect on human MEN. Even cat hating men? Who knows? Who talks to cat-hating men?

Destroy: the phrase “sex-kitten” (ban this sick p@3do-b3st14l filth), and “Hello Kitty” stationery (ban this sick p@3do-b3st14l filth)

Search: lovely LOVELY piccies of kitties, like the 196 at this site

Bonus level: Keep Kitty Warm – time-wasting game from b3ta.

*Thanks to the sharp-eyed contributor to IMDB trivia who spotted they were real kitties.

8
Mar 05

THE FT TOP 25 ANIMALS – 21. Rabbits

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The rabbit occupies an unusual position in the animal kingdom. Some people keep pet sheep, cows or chickens. Some people eat guinea pigs and dogs. But only the rabbit enjoys widespread popularity as companion and comestible. I’m quite lucky in that I’ve never liked rabbit meat that much so there’s no cognitive dissonance involved in my owning two bunnies as pets (l-r: Mymble, Goat). It’s a fair bet that cat owners don’t have to put up with “YUM YUM” style jokes all the time, though.

But why a rabbit? House rabbits (ones who live indoors and – in theory at least – get to run around a lot) are the third most popular pet in the US after cats and dogs: the days of supine hutch-dwelling are largely over. Rabbits aren’t exactly low-maintenance, though: as well as regular cleaning out you need to keep your house rabbit-proof, feed them a lot and give them as much playing time as possible. They’re friendly creatures but not generally in a pick-up-and-cuddle sort of way. So what, beyond obvious cuteness, is the appeal?

I like owning rabbits because they’re intelligent enough to be curious, to play and to do interesting things but not so complex as to be wholly alien. You can work them out without having to anthropomorphise them. There’s a satisfaction in understanding rabbit stimulus and response and then engineering their environment to keep them happy. I’m also a hands-off pet owner so I’m quite happy with the rabbit style of play, which is generally to run up, nudge, and run away again (with many variations on this).

It’s also pretty much as cheap to keep two of them as one, and there’s a special pleasure in watching them play together, socialise and groom. It may not be quite as magical as seeing a pair of kittens romping but rabbits seem to bond quite strongly and these bonds last throughout their lives.

11
Mar 05

THE FT TOP 25 ANIMALS – 20. Pandas

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We love the underdog right? Nature doesn’t. The history of evolution (and one would imagine slightly less intelligent design creationism) is full of animals which did not quite make it. The dodo for example was a big stupid evolutionary backwater. What animal in nature at the moment is inhabiting the evolutionary ejector seat, what animal really has little time left.

Well if we left nature to its own devices it would clearly be the panda. Big, cuddly food fascist and sexual loser, the panda is the emblem of the World Wildlife Fund for a reason. Well two:
a) It is a big time endangered species
b) Awww, cute and cuddly wuddly.

The pandas I am most acquainted with* are not ones found in zoos. Rather they are the ones found in traveling funfairs, to be won on some sort of bunco booth game. A stuffed toy alternative to the definitely not endangered at all species of goldfish-in-a-bag. Well the individual goldfish are extremely endangered, but the species is much hardier than the rubbish panda. Mainly because it is a lot less picky about what it eats (sawdust), and has absolutely no problems in the sexual department. It is even unclear if pandas are bears or not. Sacred animal to the Chinese they may be, but they are stupid, lumbering lumps of cutesy slackerdom. Perhaps bamboo deforestation has not helped the humble panda, but this is not an animal which wants to help itself. The only reason pandas are still around is because they look good. But they are natures punching bag: that is a reason they have black eyes I guess.

*Not including police panda cars of course, he says in his wideboy gangster London patois.

13
Mar 05

The FT Top 25 Animals – 19: Giant Squid

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Who knows the secrets of the giant squid? Nobody! Well, nobody knows all of them – nobody really knows how big they can get or much about their life cycles and habits way down in the ocean murk. What we know about them comes mostly from their carcasses, washed up with scars that bear witness to titanic undersea struggles with other squid, or whales, or who knows what.

This element of mystery is why giant squids are here. They’re a reminder of a time, not very long gone, when the animal kingdom was full of mysteries, when it was all too easy to observe the creatures we knew and imagine larger, fiercer, more freakish and more toothy versions somewhere out there in the unexplored wilds. Now the wilds – on land at least – are well mapped, and mystery is the province of hopeful or desperate Yeti-hunters and bigfoot-believers. The last large mammal to be discovered was the somewhat pitiful Okapi, in 1911, and even he is a cross between two other, better-loved beasts. The okapi was nominated for this list and quickly dismissed. For a taste of the unknown the way our ancestors may have felt it we must look to the seabed, and to the beaches where its monsters sometimes wash ashore.

18
Mar 05

The FT Top 25 Animals – 18. Meerkats

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MEERKATS LEAD TO MOCKERY

You know the rumbling swell of laughter, that starts with one influential person in the office, and then the scrawny middle manager, the one who goes RUNNING, you know the sort don’t you – well, she starts laughing too, which gives her favoured minion the green-light to start laughing too, and then the people from the next office come over and ask what’s so funny, and then the so-called office-humour gets passed on, and then in a Teddy Pendergrass sense, the whole town really is laughing at me. And why? I’ve only pondered the perfectly innocent question of “how big is 10 inches“?

AAHAHAHAHAHA, goes the office.

I look up from browsing for meerkats on eBay, my face flushed red.

“It’s a ten inch MEERKAT PUPPET!”, I try and declaim to the massed hordes of mockery, but they have none of it.

I suffer for my meerkat love. But hey, at least I have a toy meerkat now!

Meerkats generally spend their time running around various African plains being filmed looking cute, and avoiding SNAKES, but in my mind they’re the true futur-pop stars of the animal world. I can imagine them teaming up and going into dance routines. You can’t imagine that with the noble stand-alone BADGER, can you, or the tuxedoed penguin, or the scurrying ANT? Of course you can’t. Meerkats STAND UP and LOOK AROUND. What do lemurs do? SURE they have big eyes, and long tails, but do they look like they can disco? Not one JOT, and for these flimsy yet firm held opinons, the meerkat will hold a tight grip on my heart until death takes me to the great den in the sky. Sadly, meerkats GNAW and don’t make good pets (I’ve already researched). Does anyone want to buy me a Gobi Plain?

15
Mar 05

THE FT TOP 25 ANIMALS – 17. Ant

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(NB the #18 animal will appear soon, we have commissioned an expert in the field to write a piece and will publish it out of sequence!)

My work has been on a drive to get everyone to complete their profiles on the Company Intranet. This is 3000 people so no easy task. As part of the profile you are required to answer a question “What inspires you?”. Most of the responses have either been business crawliness (I am inspired by teamwork and the feeling of satisfaction when a PROJECT is handed in) or hello-clouds whimsy. However one person has put “Ants”. Good for her.

Unfortunately her reasoning is straight out of The Animal Kingdom for Managers. Also after discussing the pride and teamwork of the tiny ants she then boasts of “irradicating” them all in her kitchen, this is not the attitude we need from our staff surely. Anyway while not inspired by the humble ant I do like it a lot. As with the pig it is the versatility that wins me over:

- metaphor for playing God. One of the first things any self-respecting supervillain learns is the phrase “mere ants”.

- actuality of playing God in the form of an Ant Farm. Nobody I knew ever actually constructed an Ant Farm but they took the acquisition of one as a license to do unspeakable things to ants.

- creature of fear even at normal size as they have a tendency to swarm. Not that the ones on English patios swarmed much but my shaky grasp of ant lifestyles made me sure that if only a powerful enough queen could be found doomsday would ensue.

- very frightening indeed at giant African size. There was a feature on the ant menace on the BBC recently which allowed one lucky presenter to utter the sentence “Only the beaks remain.”

- not frightening at all at unrealistic colossal radiation-infected size.

- tireless humble worker, exploited by indolent grasshopper.

- Ant Man out of Marvel Comics, much-loved if generally useless superhero who controls ants (three of whom he named Crosby, Stills and Nash!)

- I have a metre-long ant soft toy.

16
Mar 05

THE FT TOP 25 ANIMALS – 16. Polar Bear

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INCIDENTALLY WE HAVE A CLUB ON NEXT THURSDAY AT THE POLAR BEAR.

Ahem.

Lion of the North! They’re not actually white you know, more a kind of grubby cream colour. They devour seals and mints in equal measure. Perennial British wildlife TV favourite because they’re exotic and fierce but cute and relatively near (the badger is the British polar bear). Thus they balance both sides of the Wildlife TV equation – the public want to see wuvly animals but they must also be told the truth about nature R in T&C. The polar bear offers an opportunity to do this without interminable cub-in-danger sequences.