Savvy Ukrainian fox makes five-decker sausage sandwich

April 28, 2015 • 3:00 pm

 by Greg Mayer

From the BBC, a Radio Free Europe crew encountered a fox (Vulpes vulpes) in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, and gave it some bread and sausage. Click on the screenshot (not the arrow) to go to the video to see what it did; note that, cat-like, it uses its paw to help arrange the food for pick up by its mouth:

Screen shot 2015-04-27 at 6.35.46 PM

The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, part in the Ukraine and part in Byelorussia, was created after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster of 1986. It is an area of 1000 mi² (2600 km²) from which all people have been removed due to the extensive radioactive contamination. The area has thus begun reverting to a wild state, and biologists and other scientists are let in for short periods to study the wildlife. The PBS Nature series had a fine film on the zone, Radioactive Wolves, a few years ago. Whatever the effects of the radiation, the absence of man has led to a recrudescence of the large mammal community.

A true wild horse in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, photo by Dr. Sergey Gaschak.
A true wild horse in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, where they were (re-)introduced; photo by Dr. Sergei Gaschak.

The area has become home to wolves, lynx, wisent, true wild horses, red deer, boars, moose (= elk), roe deer, and the most recently proven inhabitants, brown bears,which were first documented last fall by Dr. Sergei Gaschak.

Brown bear in Chernobyl Exclusion Zone,Ukraine, taken with a camera trap, 2 October 2014, by Sergey Gaschak.
Brown bear in Chernobyl Exclusion Zone,Ukraine. Picture taken with a camera trap, 2 October 2014, by Dr. Sergei Gaschak; from the Center for Ecology and Hydrology of the NERC, UK.

The CEZ is an unintentional, but, to my eye, quite successful, experiment in rewilding. It’s practically Pleistocene: all they need are woolly mammoths. And, according to some, they’re on the way!

“Oriental yeti”– April Fools?

April 5, 2010 • 11:30 pm

by Greg Mayer

The Telegraph and the Times have stories up about the creature below from China, which they’ve dubbed the “oriental yeti”.

"Oriental yeti" from the Telegraph.

The Times headline writer notes that it “looks like a bear without fur”. The story is so absurd, I first thought it an April Fools joke, but the datelines are April 5 or 6, so I guess not.

So what’s absurd? First, there’s the name. ‘Yeti’ is a name for the abominable snowman, the supposed bipedal ape or ape-man of the Himalayas. The animal in the photo obviously bears not the slightest resemblance to a man or ape. ‘Oriental’ is a curious modifier for yeti, since yetis are Oriental– they occur (or are supposed to occur) in Asia. Whoever bestowed this moniker on the creature evidently hasn’t the slightest idea what the word ‘yeti’ means, and perhaps doesn’t know what ‘oriental’ means either.

Then there’s the description of it as a ‘bear without fur’. While it is only very sparsely haired, it doesn’t look at all like a bear. The head and ear shape are all wrong, but if this is too subtle, it has a long, thick tail! (Hint: bears have very short tails; more bear info here.) The creature is said to have emerged from ‘ancient woodlands’, which sounds mysterious, but the articles note it was trapped by local hunters. Both articles betray very low standards of science journalism; really, in fact, no standards at all.

So it’s not a bear or a yeti; what is it? It’s clearly a mammal of the order Carnivora (but not of the bear family, Ursidae) suffering from some skin disease, likely mange. It doesn’t look like a member of the dog, cat or weasel families to me, but it does look like a civet, so my money is on a mangy civet. (Here’s info on a civet that occurs in China– I’m not saying it’s this particular species; more on civets in general here.) The forlorn looking critter is said to have been sent to Beijing for DNA tests. Darren Naish over at Tetrapod Zoology is good at getting to the bottom of these sorts of stories, and I hope he’ll take this one up.

By the way, this is what a mangy bear does look like.

Mangy American black bear from

UPDATE. At Mammoth Tales, John McKay also says it’s a civet, specifically a binturong.