National Geographic April 2014, Part 3

Wild Obsession, by Lauren Slater, photographs by Vincent J. Musi

Wild Obsession is about people who share their homes with wild animals. The cover image is of a hedgehog, but there are no hedgehogs in this article — most of the animals mentioned are large cats and things of that nature. Slater talks to some of the people who currently own wild animals, and also to those who have given their animals up.

Slater comes across fairly sympathetic to the feelings of these owners, except during one instance which Slater interprets as an attempt of a juvenile kangaroo to mate with a pig (and which the owner of the animals says is a grooming behavior), which Slater sums up with “here, in this wired enclosure, the natural order has been altered.” For some reason, this sat wrong with me. It came off as dismissive of the animals’ owner’s assessment of the situation. We never see what is happening, merely what Slater tells us has happened, for one. It also seemed judgmental. Interspecies attempts at mating do happen in the wild, after all. I’ve found stories of moose trying to mate with horses or cows and of seals trying to mate with penguins and I didn’t have to dig far to find them. The seal/penguin story was on the first page of the Google results when I searched for “interspecies mounting” and the moose/horse(cow) one was in the comments to that article. The Wikipedia article has eight footnotes relating to interspecies mating in the wild. Additionally, if species were the kind of impermeable barrier that Slater seems to imagine, we wouldn’t have the Sherpas, since their ability to withstand high altitude comes, from everything I have read, from Denisovian ancestors.

For what it’s worth, I would never consider owning a large animal. The cost of feeding it would be prohibitive, but mostly I wouldn’t consider it because it would be cruel to force a large cat to live on a quarter-acre of land in a residential neighborhood. Also, however, it could be dangerous to me, personally. About 20 years ago now, one of my cats was walking from Point A to Point C and I was at Point B. As he crossed my lap, his rear foot slipped. I still have the scar. If a 15-pound cat could do that, what could a 300-pound tiger do?

Domesticated cats and dogs are plenty for me, thanks.  I would maybe like to get a large parrot someday.  Alex has said that he’d be willing to inherit it from me.  I would, of course, only get a parrot that was born in captivity from a reputable breeder.  I would do this largely to avoid participating in animal trafficking but also so that I would know the health status of the parrot’s ancestors.

Romans in France, by Robert Kunzig, photographs by Rémi Bénali

For some reason, Romans in France starts out with an overview of waste management solutions in Rome, in which we’re told that Monte Testaccio is actually a pile of empty amphorae that were thrown out of warehouses along the Tiber. Then we move on to the meat of the article, which is about an archaeological, well, “dig” is the wrong word, and I’m not too sure about “excavation.” We’ll go with “project” beneath the waters of the Rhône in Arles, France.

In 1986, archaeologist Luc Long was dared by a friend to dive into the polluted waters of the Rhône. Long found a truck under the water, and in the driver’s side of the truck was a Roman amphora.

In 2004, the archaeologists found a Roman barge 102 feet in length. Almost a decade later, the money came along to build a home for the barge once they excavated it. In order to remove it, however, the archaeologists had to work with the seasons and also replace the cellulose, that had long since dissolved in the water, with a polymer.

While I very much enjoyed this article, there is one curiously written sentence in this article that seems to say that because a nail fell out of one of the timbers it was probably similar to the ones that were used in the crucifixion of Jesus. I was unaware that one of the properties of the Holy Nails was that they came out of the wood easily. Kunzig, the blurb at the bottom of that page says, is a senior editor. He could probably have used the services of an editor for that sentence.

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